Personal Injury

Mysterious Illness Hits Sea and Air Travelers

Travel companies everywhere are wooing customers with great travel deals. Look online and you'll see incredibly low prices on all kinds of trips and tours. But two vessels - one by sea, and one by air - have recently seen many of their passengers fall ill. What are the legal rights of travelers who suffer a widespread illness?

Recent Illnesses Plague Ship and Plane

Over the past few months, two carriers in the tourism business have taken a public relations hit from widespread sickness among their passengers. The Celebrity Mercury, of Celebrity Cruises, was recently brought to an early halt after 350 passengers fell ill.

The illness that struck the travelers came with unpleasant symptoms including upset stomach. The ship's leaders assured wary travelers they were undertaking a complete and thorough sanitizing of the entire ship.

The previous two voyages of the Celebrity Mercury also were hit with widespread passenger illness from a norovirus, which often comes with stomach cramps, vomiting and diarrhea. After the outbreak, the cruise line delayed the next departure one day for intensive cleaning. The Center for Disease Control's Vessel Sanitation Program reports that norovirus outbreaks are common on cruise ships.

A US Air jet faced similar troubles when passengers, and even pilots, on three flights in three months became ill from unknown fumes.

Preventive Measures Can Help

Many travel agents and companies offer "travelers insurance" guarding against unforeseen events that can turn a dream vacation into a nightmare. This insurance usually comes at a low cost and will cover things like emergencies leading to a last-minute cancellation of your trip.

Be sure to read the "fine print" so you understand what is and isn't covered by this insurance. Some comparison shopping might be a good idea. If you buy this insurance from the company you're traveling with, ask what their general policy would be if they cancel the trip.

If something causes the trip to go awry, talk with the customer service staff at the travel company, or your travel agent, to see if a full or partial refund is available. They may be willing to bargain with you for a deep discount or free upgrade on a future trip. The companies might be especially receptive to refunds if their trip problem has made the news and they want to repair their image with customers.

Should You File a Lawsuit?

Some travelers might be outraged by the travel company, cruise line or airline not doing enough to prevent their illness, injury or hassle. Suing for the wrongs might not be so easy though. Especially as you'll need to be able to prove that the negligent action or inaction of someone else caused the harm.

If you recovered fully, or were fully reimbursed for your loss or injuries, your chance of being awarded a worthwhile sum of money won't be enough to make it worth the time, effort and cost of a lawsuit.

In any event, keep all of your written notes, records and documents, and any medical bills, to back up your claims of harm or injury. A well-written letter from you or from your attorney, outlining what happened and why you should be compensated, may get you at least some money back or a trip credit.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Will my regular insurance cover any sickness while I'm on vacation? Or do I really need to get travelers insurance?
  • Will the CDC let the public know if there's a really bad problem with sickness on cruise ships or airlines?
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