Travel insurance would have paid off: A cautionary tale

Over the weekend, Consumerist posted a story about a family that got "kicked off" a Royal Caribbean cruise ship. It cost the Cortes family $3,000 to get home afterward. Shame on the ship, right? Wrong.

The ship did the right thing, and some of the details are here. The situation was simple: Zoie Cortes, seven months old, got sick on the ship and was vomiting and had diarrhea. The family took her to the ship's doctor, who said she was dehydrated and should receive treatment at a hospital.

The ship was leaving port in 10 minutes, so they had to move quickly to get their things and get off the ship to go to the hospital. The Cortes family went to a hospital in Nassau, and the staff diagnosed the baby with a cold. Not serious at all. The family was then in a position where they had to get themselves to the next port to meet the ship or go home. Had they purchased travel insurance, those costs would have been covered. They did not purchase travel insurance, so the cost is their own.

The Cortes family (and apparently the media too) think that Royal Caribbean should pay the family's costs. I disagree. The ship personnel did exactly the right thing. There was a baby with potentially serious symptoms, and they recommended she go to the hospital to see if it was indeed a serious illness.

Could you imagine the nightmare if the ship's doctor had instead said something like this: "Well, we're not sure what's wrong with your baby, but we're leaving port in 10 minutes so you better not go to the hospital. You should stay on the ship." Then imagine the baby being very, very sick. Now what? You wanna bet that the family is going to hold the ship responsible? Of course.

Sending the baby to the hospital was the prudent thing to do in this litigious society. Unfortunately, her symptoms were the type that can be part of either a very minor illness or a very serious one, and the ship's doctor had no way of knowing.

Times in and out of ports aren't exactly negotiable, and all cruise ships have a well-publicized policy that they adhere to their schedules with very few exceptions. So when the family did the right thing and took the baby to the hospital, the ship left port, as planned.

I feel badly that the family's vacation was ruined, but this is the chance you take with small children. Further, they might consider travel insurance in the future. The sickness and the costs are unfortunate, but they're not Royal Caribbean's responsibility. The ship's staff did the right thing, and I applaud them.

Tracy L. Coenen, CPA, MBA, CFE performs fraud examinations and financial investigations for her company Sequence Inc. Forensic Accounting, and is the author of Essentials of Corporate Fraud.
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