Following the article on the Consumer Association’s (CA) website entitled “Beware: Citadel’s Travel Insurance Hidden Limitations”, CA first received a letter from Citadel’s legal counsel where CA was told that should it not immediately remove this post from its website and publish an apology with wording that will be agreed to by Citadel, Citadel would then proceed “judicially” against the association “both criminally and civilly, for libel, defamation, and consequent damages.” The letter is being reproduced below.
CA decided to maintain its stance primarily because:
- What CA published was correct and factual, and there was nothing defamatory in what was written in the piece objected;
- CA’s main role is to inform consumers about any lack of information or misinformation which traders give when describing their products or services;
- Failure by CA to act in such instances would mean that it is abdicating from its role to alert consumers when the need arises, moreso when vital information about a product or service is not given or worse is given incorrectly.
Because of the above, CA didn’t succumb to the threats and left the article on its website. Subsequently, Citadel sued us civilly. CA noted vis-a-vis the claims by Citadel that:
Citadel in their letter [through their legal counsel] tried to link our article to a specific complaint. The article objected to is not specifically about the complaint. CA referred to the complaint simply because during the investigation of the complaint CA noticed that Citadel was basing its position on ‘terms’ which were not factored in the actual terms and conditions provided by it to its clients. CA published the article because such a shortcoming could impact other consumers. We categorically deny that we acted in an abusive or illegal manner as alleged by Citadel. CA cannot understand how highlighting such incidents amounts to libel or worse justifies the threat of criminal prosecution!
CA believe that as a consumer association it is duty bound to inform consumers of their rights and to ensure that consumers are given full clear and unequivocal information on the products or services paid for. This is especially important since Maltese consumers are ranked by the EU as being the third in the classification of those consumers who spend most on travelling.
Travel insurances are very important today. The current turmoil created by the unilateral cancellation of thousands of flights by Ryanair and the demise of Monarch Airlines, makes insurance policies vital for the mobility of consumers. Unless explicitly informed, consumers rightly assume that their full journey is covered as the journey does not constitute the first leg of the journey but the whole journey to their destination. This is logical.
In the case of Citadel, it transpired that the interpretation of the section under which such circumstances fall depends on the definition of what constitutes ‘cancellation’ and ‘journey’. However, the definition upon which Citadel seems to base its position as to whether certain circumstances are covered or not, does not feature in the information that consumers are given. Hence the reason why CA wrote article to which Citadel are so vehemently contesting even to the extent of stating that they are considering criminal proceedings!
If the definition used covered the whole journey one would understand that there is no need that such information is given to consumers as all circumstances except those explicitly mentioned would be covered. But when the definition is a restrictive one in which only the first leg of the journey, consumers have the right to be informed as such limitation is an important characteristic of the product. It is upon the characteristics of the product that a consumer decides whether to buy a product or not.
The definition which we quoted was given to us by Citadel through an email while we were assisting the said consumer to attain redress. We leave it to consumers, especially those who require to change flights to reach their destination, whether to determine if they should be informed of such a restrictive definition:
‘Cancellation means cancellation of a journey by the insured person(s) before leaving their Country of Residence, due to illness etc. Before the journey actually commences.’
We asked Citadel more than once to inform us where such a definition is included in their policy. However, they did not do so as this essential definition did not form part of the clauses governing the insurance. We are also reproducing the policy (see below) which is given to consumers in order that readers may verify whether such important information which determines the characteristics of the product/service is included in the policy.
The Association notes that such unwarranted steps by Citadel only serve to strengthen our resolve to ensure that the rights of consumers are safeguarded especially in such essential sectors as travelling.