If you’ve noticed an increase in the number of cruise passenger injuries and deaths, you’re not alone. Our maritime lawyers worry constantly about the ever-increasing rate at which cruise travelers are becoming exposed to life-threatening situations. It’s natural that with the growing size of ships and the larger number of passengers they accommodate, accidents would be much more likely to occur. But at the same time, cruise lines have done nothing to improve onboard medical facilities or facilitate the transport of seriously ill or injured passengers to the nearest land-based hospital.
In our last blog, Sick at Sea? Don’t Expect Much Help from Cruise Lines, we provided an inside look into what passengers requiring medical treatment during their cruise vacation can expect. In all honesty, they shouldn’t expect much. Though not for lack of space, cruise ships are not equipped with extensive emergency medical facilities, nor are all ship doctors even properly trained to treat serious or life-threatening illnesses and injuries. If a passenger needs emergency treatment right away, they might not even get approved for an air medevac, and may suffer serious – if not fatal – complications as a result.
Even when a cruise passenger does obtain treatment, whether for a larger health issue or for a minor injury, they can expect to pay an arm and a leg for it. Health insurance isn’t usually accepted onboard ships, which means that anyone needing medical attention, even if it’s just for sea sickness, will be paying full-price out-of-pocket costs.
But while there are times when emergencies strike without any foreseeable cause, there are many things cruise passengers can do to minimize their risk of getting sick or hurt on the high seas, and reduce their chances of having to pay the exorbitant cost of onboard medical care. Let’s explore these options.
Minimizing your risk of getting sick or injured on a cruise ship
According to statistics, cruise passengers most commonly seek medical treatment on their ship for sea sickness, Norovirus, falls, and cardiac problems. Knowing this, you can minimize your chance of getting a virus by washing your hands frequently and disinfecting your personal belongings in your cabin, whether or not your room was cleaned. To avoid a nasty tumble, keep your eyes peeled for spilled liquid, torn carpeting and uneven surfaces. As far as cardiac problems go, studies have found that most cruise passenger deaths related to cardiac arrest occurred during holidays. What happens during holidays? We overindulge. Well, that happens on a cruise in general, regardless of what time of year it is. By watching how much – and what – you eat and limiting alcohol consumption, you can lower your chances of suffering from a heart attack at sea.
You can also bring your own first aid kit with you, including bandages, gauze and over-the-counter meds, so that you never find yourself without the basics. If you take prescription medication, make sure to pack enough of a supply that will last you the entire cruise – and then some. Ask your doctor for an extra prescription in case you need to get a refill.
Minimizing costs associated with onboard medical care
Before setting sail, you might also want to check with you health insurance provider to determine if your benefits extend to onboard ship facilities and international ports. You might still need to pay out-of-pocket, but at least you won’t have to deal with the unwelcomed surprise of finding out you owe thousands of dollars in medical bills after you obtain treatment.
Another option you might want to consider is obtaining travel health insurance, which you can obtain from online brokers. You can choose the plan that best fits your needs, and you’ll have some peace of mind during your vacation knowing you are covered for large-scale medical emergencies. But be warned, if you do obtain travel health insurance, make sure you get it from a third-party company. Travel protection plans offered by cruise lines or travel agents may not cover anything at all.
In our last blog, we presented the case of Dodge Melkonian, an elderly cruise passenger who was left stranded in Turkey by Azamara when he suffered an injury in his cabin. Mr. Melkonian was first taken to a non-English speaking and poorly sanitized hospital, then, with the help of his travel agent back home, finally got transferred to an American hospital for surgery. Mr. Melkonian had purchased travel insurance. He thought he would be covered for his treatment. But he wasn’t, and that’s because he purchased his insurance straight from Azamara’s parent company, Royal Caribbean International.
There is a very valuable lesson to be learned here: If you are going on a cruise, the best thing you can do for yourself is to realize you are on your own, so you can plan accordingly. In the event an emergency does occur, it’s important to contact a maritime injury lawyer to determine if you are eligible to file a claim over your injuries, illness or the cruise line’s negligent actions.