Each cruise accident lawyer at our firm has seen their fair share of nightmares on the high seas, representing victims who have suffered serious injuries, lost a loved one or who have been the targets of criminal activity. But recently, a new legislation introduced by Sen. John “Jay” Rockefeller called the Cruise Passenger Protection Act of 2013 began to get the ball rolling in the right direction regarding safety at sea. The Act was created with the goal of increasing transparency in the cruise industry, requiring cruise lines to disclose their accident and crime reports to the public, the same way they are required to do so to the FBI, Coast Guard and other maritime authorities. We were hoping that now, finally, the number of passengers who fall victim to cruise line negligence would at last begin to decrease, but it seems as though we have been proven wrong.
A Clearwater, FL man was injured while vacationing in Turkey onboard a Royal Caribbean vessel. But as if that wasn’t bad enough, the victim was left stranded in Turkey without a translator, way to get home, or any help from the cruise company, all the while hospital bills are piling up with each passing day.
Eighty-nine-year-old Dodge Melkonian fell while onboard a Royal Caribbean cruise ship in Turkey and required immediate medical attention to tend to his injuries. The elderly cruise passenger broke his hip and needed far greater care than the onboard physician could provide him. Naturally, one would think Melkonian would be transferred to the nearest hospital by Royal Caribbean and afforded the care he deserves, but what he ended up getting was stiffed.
Royal left Melkonian and his wife, Jill, alone in Turkey to fend for themselves following the injury, according to the couple’s travel agent. The victim was taken to a local hospital in Istanbul where barely anyone spoke English, conditions were poor and where women weren’t even allowed. Royal did not provide a representative to accompany the couple, and instead, the vessel took off, leaving the Melkonians to deal with a severe injury in a remote country where they were barely able to communicate with locals to seek help.
Melkonian ended up having surgery on his hip and received a blood transfusion, but he needs another. The couple and their travel agent believe the cruise line abandoned them in their time of need. The Melkonian had purchased travel insurance straight from Royal Caribbean, which is intended to cover incidents like an injury requiring hospital attention, yet there were some serious loopholes in the policy. Could it have been because the cruise vacation was free? The Melkonians, who have cruised over 30 times, were on a complimentary cruise because a previous cruise they had book was interrupted following a fire onboard an Azamara Cruise Line vessel, a subsidiary of Royal. Was this Royal’s way of getting some money back?
Naturally, since Royal Caribbean, the second largest cruise company in the world behind Carnival Cruise Line, didn’t make a penny from the Melkonian’s vacation, they had to recuperate it somehow, right? Did the cruise line purposefully provide the travelers with a flawed and limited insurance plan? Was the cruise line trying to save money associated with covering medical costs for a passenger injured onboard one of their vessels? It’s hard to say at this point, but given our cruise lawyers’ past experiences with cruise ship accidents, we wouldn’t put it past RCL to try and limit their expenses.
Meanwhile, Melkonian is sitting on top of an exorbitant hospital bill that keeps getting bigger by the day – $10,000 a day to be precise. The travel insurance company has delayed payment, Royal Caribbean won’t pay, and the Melkonians have no way of covering the costs on their own, so who’s going to pay the medical bills? And moreover, who is going to pay for the ill treatment this elderly couple has received?
Our very own cruise accident lawyer, Charles R. Lipcon, was interviewed regarding the cruise line’s travel insurance policy and he noted that the insurance company’s failure to pay for the medical bills is a breach of contract.
“Actually, I read the policy over for that particular cruise line, and that’s not in accord with the insurance coverage,” said Mr. Lipcon.
This isn’t the first time a cruise line has left a victim high and dry without offering so much as a cruise voucher for their troubles. The purpose of travel insurance is to provide much needed coverage in the event of an emergency or tragedy, like, say, a severe hip fracture in a foreign country, for instance. Yet, neither the insurance company nor the cruise line is making sufficient effort to advance the victim funds for his expenses in Turkey. The travel insurance policy states that it’s coverage comes after any other available coverage and as such they are waiting to see what other coverage is available. This has resulted in unnecessary delays for someone who needs help immediately. So while the requirements of the fine print have to be sorted out, it has left the person in need of immediate surgery high and dry.
Not only does the victim rightfully have a claim to receive compensation for his medical bills, but he may also have a claim against Royal Caribbean for their negligence in providing him with reasonably prompt medical attention and assistance following an injury onboard a ship. Although accidents continue to happen onboard cruise ships and at port, it still never ceases to amaze us how a multibillion-dollar industry can still fail to provide basic safety for passengers and medical attention when needed.
It seems as though regardless of how many maritime laws are enacted, cruise lines will continue to find a way around them without considering the needs of their guests. You have to wonder why companies in the tourism business are not more tuned in to the needs of their customers. In the end, it would only be good business to help passengers when they are in the most need of help. Hopefully, the cruise lines will wake up and fix this problem. It would be a good business move and ultimately pay off with more business for them. In other words, the classic win-win.