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Trapped by legal loophole -

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Trapped by legal loophole

Broadcast: 22/06/2010

Reporter: Natasha Johnson

A woman who lost her husband and was left paralysed by a horrific Egypt bus crash calls for
compulsory insurance for outward tour operators.

Transcript

KERRY O'BRIEN, PRESENTER: Four years ago, six Australians were killed and 24 others injured when a
dream holiday in Egypt ended in a horrific bus crash. The Victorian coroner has blamed the accident
on driver fatigue and criticised the organisation of the tour without identifying which company was
responsible. But victims of the accident would like to pursue legal action against the
Melbourne-based tour organiser, though are unable to because the company had no public liability
insurance, nor was required to. Now, Lynne Panayiotis, who lost her husband and was left paralysed
by the accident, is calling for compulsory insurance for outward tour operators to protect
Australian travellers. Natasha Johnson reports.

LYNNE PANAYIOTIS: I'm angry. It's just not right. And I've always tried to base what I do in life
on what's right and wrong. And this is wrong.

NATASHA JOHNSON, REPORTER: Anger mingled with grief after a coroner's finding left unanswered
questions about who was to blame for the Egypt bus crash four years ago, in which six Australians
were killed and 24 injured.

LYNNE PANAYIOTIS: I woulda liked to have been able to said that's the person who's responsible for
my husband's death, and I can't do that.

NATASHA JOHNSON: Lynne Panayiotis and her husband George, a Victorian police officer, were on a
dream holiday to Egypt in January, 2006 as part of a cultural exchange trip, including police
members from around the country.

It ended in disaster when the coach they were travelling in ran off the road between Alexandria and
Cairo after a marathon day of sightseeing.

CARMEN BUTCHER: I saw the bus in front veer off the road. It hit a sand dune on the side of the
road and spun 180 and then started to flip through the air; I think it flipped about four times. We
could see luggage and people being thrown out through the windows.

NATASHA JOHNSON: Carmen Butcher, a police officer from Alice Springs, was travelling in the bus
behind. She climbed into the wreckage and suffered a broken hip, pelvis and ribs when the roof
collapsed on her as she rescued Lynne Panayiotis.

CARMEN BUTCHER: I saw a hand sticking out of the sand, just scratching at the sand. So I got down
on my hands and knees and just dug and found Lynne buried - like, her head was buried under the
sand. And Lynne said, "Don't leave me," and asked me to stay. So I continued to kneel over the top
of Lynne and attempt to dig her out.

NATASHA JOHNSON: Lynne Panayiotis remembers little of the crash in which she suffered horrific
injuries. She was left a paraplegic and had one part of one leg amputated. Her husband, George,
died in the crash.

What have you lost?

LYNNE PANAYIOTIS: Where do you start? Everything. I've lost the life that I had, I feel I'm not the
same person that I was and I wanna be that person and I wonder if I'll ever get back there.

NATASHA JOHNSON: She's had extensive rehabilitation at Royal Talbot Hospital, but has had to give
up her career as a high school teacher, can no longer live independently and still struggles to
cope with the loss of her partner of 23 years.

LYNNE PANAYIOTIS: It's just so overwhelming. And then when he's not there to comfort, it just
exacerbates it. And then I go down to shut down.

NATASHA JOHNSON: And what's compounded the trauma for Lynne Panayiotis and other victims is that
they have no avenue for compensation.

BERNARD MURPHY, LAWYER: There is no justice for Lynne Panayiotis at the moment.

NATASHA JOHNSON: Coroner Paresa Spanos found that the crash was caused by driver fatigue after the
Egyptian bus driver clocked up 625 kilometres during a 14-hour shift. She also found that the tour
was poorly organised, without sufficient personnel or rest breaks.

During the inquest, lawyers for the survivors argued that the Melbourne-based tour organiser, Egypt
Tours, whose owner Stephen Seif accompanied them on the trip, was in control of the tour and
therefore responsible. However, Mr Seif claimed he was merely a travel agent and facilitator and
that the Egyptian-based Grand Tours was the principal organiser.

The coroner couldn't determine which company was in charge. It' extremely difficult to pursue legal
action in Egypt and the victims plans to sue the Australian tour operator have collapsed because
their lawyers say the company had no substantial assets and no public liability insurance.

Australian-based tour operators, however, are under no legal requirement to have public liability
insurance.

BERNARD MURPHY, LAWYER: Well it's a disgrace that you could sign up for a tour in Victoria, have it
operated by the Victorian overseas and yet have no entitlement to any compensation if the tour is
run negligently. Personal travel insurance covers your medical expenses and your travel home. It
doesn't generally cover the injuries you suffered, the pain and suffering, the loss of enjoyment of
life or the future economic loss that you incur.

LYNNE PANAYIOTIS: It came as a real shock to find that someone organising tours like this doesn't
have public liability insurance. For goodness sake, the local playgroup needs to have insurance, as
does the Scouts and a whole pile of other charities, and yet someone who's been organising these
tours for years isn't required to have insurance.

CARMEN BUTCHER: You'd never think to check if someone has got this public liability insurance
before you book a holiday through them.

NATASHA JOHNSON: They're calling for compulsory public liability insurance for outbound tour
operators.

BERNARD MURPHY: It's a problem in every Australian jurisdiction that people buy tours all the time,
that they believe they're protected. They sometimes can suffer horrific injuries and yet there's no
adequate avenue for compensation.

NATASHA JOHNSON: But there's unlike to be reform anytime soon. Travel agents are licensed by state
governments, but the Victorian Government says the issue would be better addressed at a national
level and has no plans for a stand-alone scheme. But the Federal Government has indicated it's
reluctant to mandate insurance, as it would be unlikely insurers would be willing to provide cover
for accidents occurring overseas.

Egypt Tours Stephen Seif continues to organise tours, but declined to comment on whether he now has
insurance. Crash survivors continue to struggle with the lifelong consequences of a trip that
turned to tragedy.

What do you say to Mr Seif today?

LYNNE PANAYIOTIS: Remember us. Remember us every time he takes another group.

KERRY O'BRIEN: That report that Natasha Johnson.