Coby Benson from Bott & Co. on the rise of in flight compensation...

Coby, can you tell us about what areas Bott & Co. specialises in?
Bott & Co previously specialised exclusively in personal injury claims. However, we have now diversified by opening up an additional department that deals with claims for compensation arising out of flights that are cancelled or delayed.

You’ve become well known for your work in that area. How and why did you move into it?
It all started when I was delayed on a flight for nearly six hours. It didn’t seem right that the airline could just leave passengers stranded in a foreign airport with no information or help for that length of time. So, when I returned home I researched what my rights were and found out about Regulation 261/2004.

I tried to make a claim against the airline but it ignored my request and in the end I decided the only option would be to issue court proceedings. Being a solicitor, I thought this would be a piece of cake, how wrong I was! The airline instructed a top firm of London lawyers and filed a 12 page defence in response to my claim. After much deliberation - and two court hearings later - I was finally awarded compensation. The stance taken by the airlines and the complexities of the law made me question how consumers would be able to deal with a claim like this without expert legal advice.

I was aware that hundreds of thousands of people were also entitled to compensation, but they either didn’t know it, or they didn’t have the skills to recover it. I approached the managing partner at Bott & Co with a business proposition to open up a new department to help passengers that have nowhere else to go. The department has been open for less than six months now and we already have over 5,600 clients.

You partner with EUclaim - Europe's best known flight compensation company – so how does your relationship with them work?
EUclaim specialises in providing the all-important flight data to automatically assess whether a flight qualifies for compensation under the rules. It has developed an extremely sophisticated computer system that will automatically risk assess a case to see if it fulfils our criteria to deal with the case on a no-win-no-fee basis.

What is the criteria for anyone thinking they might have a claim and what’s the average compensation?
To qualify for compensation, the flight must have been cancelled with less than 14 days notice or have been delayed by over three hours. The flight must also have departed from a European airport or be flying into a European airport within a European airline.

The airline will have a defence to the claim if it can prove that the cancellation or delay was caused by ‘extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken’. The compensation amounts are €250, €300, €400 or €600 depending on the distance of the flight. We find that on average the compensation amounts to around €450 per passenger.

Can you tell us a bit about the legal process behind handling these kinds of claims?
The first stage is establishing whether the flight falls within the ambit of the Regulation and this is done instantly when clients enter their details onto our website. EUclaim will then manually assess the claim a second time to investigate the flight more fully and try to pre-empt any argument by an airline that the disruption was caused by an ‘extraordinary circumstance’.

Once we’ve risk assessed the claim, we’ll then send a letter before claim to the airline and give it 30 days to respond. If the airline denies liability to pay - or if it fails to respond within 30 days - then we issue court proceedings against it. We will represent claimants all the way to the final hearing if required and we’ve even taken on a couple of appeals where we feel the courts have interpreted the law incorrectly.

How are your fees worked out?
Our fees are charged on a no-win-no-fee basis and they’re fixed at €25 + 27% of the compensation recovered. We pay the up front court fees as well, and considering consumers are sometimes spending several weeks trying to recover their compensation, our low fees mean it’s usually cheaper to claim with us than do it yourself.

In theory, consumers can pursue their own claims so what are the benefits of using a firm like Bott & Co.?
We would always encourage a potential claimant to try the claim themselves first and - in fact - our website provides a state-of-the-art automated system that will produce the required letter before claim free of charge. However, more often than not, airlines will not concede liability straightaway and it is in those circumstances that court proceedings are necessary.

Although these claims are for a relatively low value, they are also surprisingly technical and complex. The airline will usually instruct a barrister to represent it at any hearing, so unless the claimant is particularly knowledgeable about this area of law then it is best left to a specialist. Bott & Co also conducts all work on a no-win-no-fee basis, including covering the costs of any disbursements and adverse costs.

Do you think flight delay compensation will continue to be a growth area?
Absolutely, every day more and more people are learning about their rights to claim.

Currently claims can only be made against EU based airlines landing in the EU, or airlines flying out of the EU. Do you think a time will come when all international flights are covered?
I can’t imagine the European Regulations ever covering all international flights; however, we’re noticing a number of other countries are introducing their own version of Regulation 261/2004, which in effect widens the geographical scope.

As we said, you’re leading the way in this particular sector so do you have any predictions of what the next ‘big thing’ might be?
We believe there’s a gap in the market for lawyers helping the public with their consumer rights and such we’re looking into additional ways we can help consumers enforce their rights, be it on land, sea or in the air!