Can this trip be saved? “My wife got salmonella poisoning at a Mexican resort”

Chris and Shelley Harper had hoped for a week of R&R with their two young children at the Riu Tequila, an all-inclusive resort in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. But instead, Shelley ended up in the emergency room with apparent food poisoning.

I won’t bury the lede, as they say in journalism. She made a full recovery. The Harper’s bank account, however, is $1,849 poorer. (Wow, those Mexican hospitals are not cheap.) Who is responsible for her hospitalization, and who should pay?

Those are excellent questions, to which the Harpers still don’t have an acceptable answer.

But let’s hear their story first. Chris Harper has the details. He says there’s no doubt about what happened. “My wife got salmonella poisoning at a Mexican resort,” he told me. He says the trouble started on the sixth day of their vacation.

Shelley awoke around 3am feeling ill and by 6am was actively vomiting. She was not able to eat or drink anything without becoming violently ill.

By noon, Shelley was very weak and dehydrated and was not showing any signs of improvement. We notified the front desk and the hotel doctor was contacted around 1pm. The doctor arrived shortly thereafter and upon examining Shelley, concluded that she was severely dehydrated and was potentially suffering from acute appendicitis. He insisted that she be admitted to the hospital for further evaluation.

The Harpers were nervous about the prospect of emergency surgery in a foreign hospital. They were not reassured when the Mexican hospital insisted they make a $1,000 deposit before being seen by a doctor.

Once we were able to contact our credit card company and authorize the transaction, she was admitted and blood tests were performed by the general surgeon, Dr. Rico. The diagnosis was determined to be salmonella poisoning with severe dehydration.

Shelley had to be admitted for an overnight stay to immediately begin re-hydration and a course of IV antibiotics. At the time of diagnosis, the surgeon indicated the salmonella exposure occurred between 24 and 72 hours prior to the onset of symptoms.

Since this occurred on Friday and we arrived the previous Sunday – this indicates conclusively that she was infected during our stay at the Riu Tequila. During the entire stay, all the food and drinks we consumed were provided by the Riu Tequila.

The Harpers have asked their tour operator, Apple Vacations for a refund of two nights plus hospital expenses, which sounds pretty reasonable — if Shelley had suffered from food poisoning. But that’s an allegation that Riu disputes. I checked with the tour operator, and it says the tests were inconclusive.

Upon contacting RIU for information, we were informed that there were no other reports of illness reported in the days or weeks leading up to the Harpers stay, or after their departure. Additionally, the RIU stated they required a confirmed diagnosis of Salmonella (which Mrs. Harper’s medical documentation did not include), which if presented, the RIU would be more than happy to revisit the situation.

However, without any medical documentation with the specific diagnosis of Salmonella, and no other sick passengers, they respectfully declined to accept responsibility. Customer Care went back to RIU a second time on Mrs. Harper’s behalf, and still they declined to accept the documentation received as being a Salmonella diagnosis.

I revisited with Chris Harper. Here’s what he had to say.

I think the sticking point is the lack of the word “salmonella” on the hospital report.

All that the report has is the test that lists:

Algutinacion TIPHI A (H) Positivo a 1/80

When you Google this it says “Did you mean TYPHI?” Which is Salmonella Typhi.

Alright, folks. Can this trip be saved? Apple says if the Harpers had purchased their option travel insurance, they would have been covered, and none of this would be necessary. Still, they’ve already tried twice to advocate for their customer, both times unsuccessfully.

Did Shelley Harper suffer from food poisoning, or something else? Even if she did, is the Riu responsible? Could she have become sick by drinking the water, for example? And how can I help?

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • ChrisY

    This is a tough one IMO.  Although it’s more rare, there is such a thing as water-borne salmonella.  Unfortunately it seems you have to take Riu at its word when they said there were no other cases that week.  Perhaps some sort of confirmation can be gotten from the hospital that it was indeed salmonella “typhi” and let the resort live up to its promise of re-visiting their case. 

    And of course, as you mention, this is precisely what things like travel insurance are for.  It’s always hard to click that button for an extra hundred bucks or whatever.  But if you’re not prepared to eat the cost of the trip and hospitalization, that’s the price of peace of mind.  If it’s the resorts’s fault, it should pay.  But I think there’s enough doubt to say in retrospect that travel insurance would have been a good idea.

  • Monica Lynn Kennedy

    I agree, paying the extra money for insurance does seem tough at the time, but I’ve read enough articles on this website (and others) to know it’s worth it in the long run. I believe this is especially true when traveling outside the country. If I’m already shelling out thousands of dollars on a vacation, chances are I don’t have thousands left in the bank to cover “oh sh*t” moments.

  • Brooklyn

    The OPs should have someone help them compose a letter, in Spanish, asking the hospital to confirm whether it was or was not salmonella and, if not, what it was (e-coli from a poorly cleaned bathroom?) I don’t see how you can do anything without that information.

  • Kim6160

    Well, based on a quick google search of “enfermedad tiphi” (illness tiphi in Spanish) all of the results reference Salmonella Tiphi which seems to be a common spelling in Spanish. Perhaps the insurance company needs to consult a doctor trained in a Spanish speaking country for reading the reports.

  • Kim6160

    Sorry, I meant RIU (not the insurance company).

  • Guest

    This is what insurance is for. If they’d had insurance …. you’d be writing a story about how the insurance company were trying to dodge out of paying them instead!

  • Brian Dw Chow

    They need to hire a medical consultant to translate the medical record.

    With the information you’ve given, it sounds like she may have had Typhoid fever, which is caused by Salmonella typhi.  In which case, cultures from stool, and possibly blood, should also have been positive.  At least in the US, Typhoid is not diagnosed by a blood agglutination test.

    Another thing that lean towards typhoid: Simple “food poisoning” should not be treated with antibiotics in an adult.  Typhoid fever, however, should be.

    Typhoid is transmitted through contaminated food or water (think of Typhoid Mary and her wonderful cooking).

    There is also a vaccine for it.  It’s not that great, but should be considered when traveling to areas where the food supply is suspect.

    My few thoughts on this:
    1)  Get the medical record translated so they know what it contains
    2)  A pre-travel medical consultation with a travel medicine expert (often an infectious diseases doctor) could have helped avoid this.  Unfortunately, insurance providers don’t cover these services or vaccines, but many vaccines are good for several years and can keep you healthy during your once in a lifetime vacation.
    3)  Medical travel insurance with an evacuation policy is key, and is found in many trip insurance policies.  Just watch your coverage limits–$25,000 evacuation may be sufficient for Mexico or the Caribbean, but you may need much more from other locations.

  • Raven

    Quoting Chris Elliott:
    They were not reassured when the Mexican hospital insisted they make a $1,000 deposit before being seen by a doctor.
    And why do we just allow Mexicans to wander into OUR hospitals and rack up thousands of dollars of bills without paying them? Hmmm???

    On a less political note, she’s due something. Salmonella comes from undercooked food or food that was placed where uncooked food had rested. Sounds like this nasty resort just had some bad help in the kitchen that day.

    Why hasn’t her US health insurance reimbursed her? Mine covers me in other countries…? Has she tried that route?

  • jayne52

    I have little personal experience with Mexico, but I have several Mexican friends. They all agree, getting anyone in Mexico to admit guilt would mean that an employee would probably be fired. The low end hotel workers
    ( in the kitchen) need their jobs. I would try finding someone higher up the ladder- try RIU Headquarters in Spain. I had a friend get very sick at a RIU in Jamaica, and they would not ever call a doctor for her. A taxi driver ended up getting her to a clinic.

  • MikeZ

    Seems the resort is hiding behind a single letter typo here, and not willing to admit what is clearly written on the hospital records. I say mediate this one for sure as soon as the OPs get a proper account of exactly what was supposed to be written and have that transcribed. Should be a no brainer.

  • Grey83

    Why didn’t they buy travel health insurance? Everytime I leave the US I do this as a matter of course.

  • emanon256

    I voted no.  That may sound harsh, but I think getting sick is a risk anyone takes when going to another country or even state for that matter.  It’s not always pleasant, and it’s not always cheap, but I believe this is a risk we all assume.  If several people at the resort all got sick the same way, as in there was an outbreak that effected many people, than I would vote differently.  This sounds like an isolated incident, and is simply the risk of traveling.

    I’ve been to Mexico a few times, and I have gotten sick a few times.  I’ve also had to go to the hospital.  Food is different, water is different, and it’s a risk one is taking.  Just because she stayed at the resort and only ate resort food, doesn’t mean she didn’t pick it up elsewhere, either while swimming, from rain water off a plant, etc.  I honestly don’t know, but unless it’s a major outbreak affecting lots of people, it’s impossible to pin it on the resort.  She could have already had a weakened immune system; she could have contracted it at the airport, or even prior to arrival.  Who knows?

    I say, this is what health insurance is for, and if someone is traveling and their health insurance doesn’t cover a foreign hospitalization, than that is what travel insurance is for.  I recently got back from Hawaii with a $2,400 hospital bill; apparently my insurance doesn’t cover the hospital on Maui.  I was diagnosed with food poisoning.  Yes it stinks; yes it’s going to take us a while to pay off this unexpected bill.  However, this could have happened anywhere, and I am not going to torment myself over trying to make other people pay for it and suck it up as part of travel.

  • DavidS

    I’m voting yes, only because the window has been left open by the property and the initial evidence indicates salmonella.

    Perhaps a letter from the doctor/hospital  in Mexico clarifying this would suffice. Or, even the OP’s regular doctor at home could request the information from the doctor in Mexico to add to her history as well. He/she could also include an interpretation of the results along with a timeline of when it was contracted.

    I am a believer in the right form of travel insurance. I think spending that much time away in a foreign country is worth investigating supplemental policies anyway.

  • Chris in NC

    While I have sympathy for the Harpers, their options are limited. Some of the suggestions posted are simply not feasible. Has anyone tried to request information from a hospital or physician in a foreign country? Hiring a health consultant is quite expensive, and at most you are talking about $2500 of reimbursement.

    Sadly, I think Americans have such an unrealistic view of health care and health care delivery. Unlike US Emergency Care, in most of the world, pre-payment or a deposit is required before a patient is evaluated. US health insurance is most likely not accepted outside the United States, so insurance is a very good idea. Frankly, a $1800 bill for an overnight stay and treatment is a bargain compared to US hospitals.

    @ emanon256, your statement about your insurance not covering a hospital bill in Maui vs in Mexico is apples and oranges. I can only speculate, but in your situation, the hospital in Maui is likely to be considered an “out of network” and subject to “out of network” deductibles which are much higher than if you were in network. This is a very different situation from foreign travel where your insurance is simply not valid.

  • Chris in NC

    Raven, a US health insurance policy that reimburses for out of country health expenses is the exception, rather than the rule.

    In virtually every other country in the world, a non-citizen cannot access health care treatment without a deposit or some guaranteed form of payment. A deposit is pretty standard worldwide. You’re right, the fact that anyone in the US can go into a hospital Emergency Department and get treatment without any guarantee of payment is a farce.

  • Ann

    I’m just not sure about this. If it was a food borne illness that made her sick, why weren’t her husband or kids sick? I think that helps to back up the claim that none of the other hotel guests got sick.

  • DavidS

    I didn’t realize it was difficult to get information from a foreign doctor/hospital. My only experience was positive. I had an incident in Japan that required medical attention. I had plenty of supplemental coverage and paid nothing out of pocket. Upon my return, my doctor requested my file from the Japanese doctor who sent the original documents as well as a translation.

    Maybe Japan is the exception?

  • FreqFlFlyer

    I agree.  We all run risks of food borne illnesses whether we eat out in the US, Mexico or from our own kitchen.  We cannot run from restaurant to vendor to manufacturer asking for compensation.  Bad stuff happens.  

    I have traveled extensively & am vigilant about what I eat & drink.  I still have gotten sick.  I look at it as being the fault of mother nature, not necessarily a dirty kitchen.  We have heard enough stories of food recalls to know that, often times, the problem starts at the food processing plant.I feel bad for the Harpers.  Their trip was ruined & they incurred a large medical expense.  I think that the hotel, out of good customer service, should reimburse those expenses, but I don’t think they have to.

  • Ralph

    I can certainly empathize with the Harpers. If she has health insurance in the USA, it might cover the costs of medical care, but it has to be the right kind of insurance.
    The resort is being logical. It’s improbable that only she got the food poisoning unless she ate something no other guest ate. She needs to get the doctor to change the “i” to a “y” before going back to the resort.

  • Cliffordpwoodrick

    Hi – We have AWAYS had travel insurance (11 years) but never filed a claim until December 2009 in St. Martin when Claire became so ill that she was in the ICU for four days and later was certified capable for the trip back to New York. This cost me $4800+ of which $4500 was returned by our insurance. This made me a firm believer in travel insurance. I also had to pay $1000 before treatment.

    Have a wonderful day – Cliff

  • Nancy Marine Dickinson

    Once again, people are caught up in the minutiae…

    That they didn’t get insurance of any kind is a moot point now.  They didn’t do it, let’s move on to a resolution rather than discussing how the rest of us might have done it better.

    I personally feel the resort is at fault here and should be reimbursing them for their medical expenses.  As far as the two additional nights, I’m not so sure…  They did stay in a room, Mom just wasn’t with them.

    The reason I feel the resort is liable is because it’s an all-inclusive and these people weren’t anywhere but the resort.  The Typhi (Tiphi) HAD to be picked up at the resort.  There’s no where else they could have gotten it 5.5 days into a 7 day trip.  Additionally, we only have the word of the resort and tour operator that no one else became ill.  These people have a vested interest in making sure the OP and his family feel isolated. Also, I think they are too quick to throw out the “Why didn’t they have insurance?” card. Seems to me this was a blind alley put in there to change the direction of everyone’s thinking.

    Also, even if no one else became ill, the OPs wife DID.  Why it was just her is a mystery (and I still feel this is dubious) but she did.  Could it have been from an egg with a meal?  Salmonella comes from eggs as well as a variety of hosts.  Could it have been a food prep person touched a specific piece of food eventually eaten by the OPs wife (and just that one piece, where they then remembered to wash their hands after going to the bathroom?)?  My point is, it IS possible for just one person to pick up salmonella in a room full of people.

    The page I read about salmonella says symptoms can begin to appear in just 6 hours after ingestion.  That means it was probably something she had for dinner.

    No one will ever be able to pinpoint where the salmonella was picked up specifically but, given there are no other locations involved, it’s pretty safe to say it was the resort.

    I say you should meditate, Chris, but I feel it’s going to be futile.  The state of affairs in Mexico is so corrupt and their contempt for Americans as anything more than an ATM will make it difficult to get satisfaction.  

    One final suggestion to the OP…  Contact your health insurance company to see if they will reimburse anything?  We have Tricare, which I realize is completely different from any other insurance, and they will reimburse out of country expenses.  Perhaps yours will do the same?  It can’t hurt to ask.

  • Gubby

    Even if they were to admit responsibility they aren’t going to refund the money.  There’s nothing you can do.  If the OP wants to get their attention he should spam travel web sites with an image of the hospital bill and say at an all inclusive resort there was no other possibility because they didn’t leave the property.  They should warn everyone to take an extra 2 grand with them for “incidentals.” 

    They might get a phone call with an offer if they are loud enough. 

  • Gubby

    Then you just have to fight with the insurance company.

  • Nancy Marine Dickinson

    Excellent post, excellent suggestions…

  • MominAmarillo

    Bottom line…the hospital report DOES say Salmonella TIPHI…which the RIU obviously knows…this is hair splitting, plain and simple.  I agree that she should have had the travel insurance, but we’re talking about a resort that probably exposed hundreds of people to this illness and now is in the CYA business.  Hate that. 

  • don satow

    They should first have the attending physician in Mexico send a letter to the resort that the diagnosis was in fact salmonella.  If that didn’t work, I’d start looking for legal representation and begin looking at adding legal fees.

  • Pizo

    I’ve been in hospitals/clinics/medical facilities in 4 countries without incurring a bill or filing an insurance claim.  So while many countries require money up front, not all do.  Typically 3rd world or more impoverished countries require money up front and last I checked it’s better to aim to be like those at the top rather than those at the bottom.

  • Pizo

    I’m not sure.  While she only ate and drank at the resort she very well possibly could have picked up the bug elsewhere and brought it on herself.  I was recently in Tanzania and when we met with the safari operator he saw me biting my nail and he told me that I needed to stop, I was likely to end up really sick.  Lo and behold a few days later, on safari, I ended up very sick.  Thankfully I had meds with me that knocked it out in a day but it wasn’t the food that got me sick (no one else was sick), it was my bad nail biting habit. 

    Mrs Harper could very well have done the same thing, picked up a souviner or touched something then bit her nail or something before she washed her hands.  Maybe that’s how she and she alone got sick.

    On the other hand this is the second time in a month Riu resorts have been mentioned.  I don’t go to all inclusives normally and I sure as heck won’t be going to a Riu resort at any point. 

  • Bodega

    Why blame the hotel?  As mentioned, no other guest reported food poisoning.  BTW, asking Apple Vacations for a refund is ludicrous. 

  • emanon256

    I was simply citing an example of a time where I was traveling, got sick, and it was not covered by insurance.  And how a separate travel policy, which I did not purchase, could have helped.
    I was not trying to compare anything about my policy vs. the OPs policy. I do now know if they have insurance at all, or if they do, what it covers.  To compare apples to apples, when I got sick in Mexico, my health insurance (Same policy that did not cover Maui) did pay 100% of my hospital bill in Mexico. 
    Their reasoning was that I was out of the country and covered unable to choose an in-network provider, so since I had no other option, Mexico was covered.  The only hospital on Maui was out-of-network, yet there was an in-network hospital in Oahu.  Their view was that I should have gone to the other hospital since it was in the same state, since I had a “Near By” option in-network, and choose to go to the out-of-network provider, my claim was denied.  That’s a problem with the insurance industry, not relevant to the OP, but since you brought it up and speculated about my policy, I figured I would explain my details.

  • Jebaker

    When are tourists going to realize that Mexico is not the US?  Many people get sick when they do down there and your insurance card is not going to work.  Get insurance for the trip or go to Florida.

  • DavidS

    I believe the request was for assistance from Apple to mediate, which they attempted.

  • Chris in NC

    Your experience is that you had “plenty of supplemental coverage” and the fact that you are in Japan. The Harpers in this case did not. Hence, without a valid guarantor, a deposit was asked. Even when you do have supplemental insurance, you may still need to leave a deposit PRIOR to treatment, you will get reimbursed by the insurance company upon return/evacuation.This is standard practice in Mexico and many places around the world.

  • SoBeSparky

    Buy the insurance.  Linking cause and effect is impossible.  You go to Mexico and you take your chances.  Come on, get real!

  • DavidS

    Yes agreed, the supplemental coverage helped big time while in Japan.

    I was also refering to the prompt follow up by the Japanese doctor to my physician’s requests as well.

  • Chris in NC

    Whether money is collected up front or not is a moot point. The reality is that health care services costs money. Health care is never “free” as some believe. Even in countries where it is “free” the health care delivery is funded through the government via taxes. 

    The difference between many countries and the United States, is that by law, no hospital or Emergency Department can turn away a patient, regardless of their financial status, with an emergency condition. In many 3rd world countries, you don’t have the money, you are are denied health care. Where I disagree with Raven is that the problem is not limited to any specific group of people, that there are many US citizens who routinely expect “free” care, and that is simply not the way it is.

    Pizo, I am curious to hear of the names of the 4 countries that didn’t give you a bill or file an insurance claim. Rest assured, your health care wasn’t “free” but it was paid through government funding and taxes.

  • Pizo

    They were England, Australia, New Zealand, and France.  And yes, all paid for by taxes, although oddly, when I worked in the UK I paid LESS in taxes than I do now in the US where I make just as much money (and I’m firmly in the “I do ok but not great” bracket).

    I still stand by what I said though, when you’re comparing the options I would rather have someone taken care of in an emergency rather than dying right outside the hospital because they couldn’t afford care.

  • Michael K

    My Dad was once hospitalized with salmonella.  Everything that he had eaten during the relevant time-frame (and beyond), either my Mom or I (or both of us) had eaten from as well.  And my Mom and I were symptomless.  

    Our doctor was not too surprised by this.  He opined that (for example) a contaminated pizza pie could have just one slice that is contaminated beyond the critical threshold.  Plus different people can fall ill at different thresholds of exposure.

  • S E Tammela

    Do I understand this right – travelling abroad, with no medical insurance? Why do people keep doing this? Why are they incensed that as non-Mexican citizens, the Mexican hospital required payment up front? And why do they then expect someone else to pay the bill?!

    I do have sympathy if a resort caused this… but let’s get real here, the money is the chief complaint here, not the illness, and the money issue isn’t the resort’s fault and could have been avoided by insurance.

    In my opinion such people are incredibly selfish. Accidents happen on holidays. Fit people slip over and crack open their skulls, children fall down stairs and break their legs, people catch a virus and spend a week on the toilet, someone gets possible food poisoning. We’re human, not invincible. Perhaps the resort was to blame this time, but what if it had been a broken leg – who would you blame then?

    You might well bankrupt your family if something had happened requiring you to be airlifted home by emergency charter flight, or worse still, if your family had to fly out to accompany your coffin on its way back to your funeral. If you can’t afford travel insurance you can’t afford to travel… simple really!

  • Bodega

    The Harpers have asked their tour operator, Apple Vacations for a refund of two nights plus hospital expenses, which sounds pretty reasonable
    From Chris’ article.

    Apples response was that they were offered insurance.  People get sick when they travel.  Different foods, drinks in countries where what is consumed is handled different than at home.  If your insurnace doesn’t cover you when you travel outside of the US, take out travel insurance for just this reason.  We all got sick in Hawaii.  I got sick in Mexico on each trip there.  I got sick after arriving home from Costa Rica.  I took responsibilty for my health, not blaming any one or any place.  Everyone these days want compensation for just walking outside of their front door.  So sad!

  • DavidS

    Hmmm…I see that now as I re-read.

    But also Chris’ mentioned that Apple was attempting to mediate:

     Apple says if the Harpers had purchased their option travel insurance, they would have been covered, and none of this would be necessary. Still, they’ve already tried twice to advocate for their customer, both times unsuccessfully.
    I agree that Apple should not be on the hook. Sometimes I think people go after everyone to get their money back from somewhere regardless of where responsibility lies, which is not cool.

  • LeeAnneClark

    I’m horrified that anyone would think that it is acceptable, from a basic human and moral perspective, to simply deny care to someone who has an emergency health crisis.  Just because someone is poor, does that mean they should be left to die, when their life could be saved with medical treatment that is available right there in front of them…but is denied to them because they don’t have money?  Sorry, but that’s just inhuman.

    Yes, health care costs money.  But this is not the forum for discussing the political issues involved in determining how healthcare for the poor is paid for.  There are other forums for those discussions.

  • Mbods2002

    That’s the 1st thing I thought of, “Why didn’t they buy trip insurance?”  It wouldn’t have been necessary to purchase it from Apple.  Plenty of time to shop around for a good price.  Hard case to prove, with that medical report.  She probably did get salmonella from the resort.  I did, when we went to Cancun years ago and stayed at a…bargain resort.  These bargain vacation spots are notorious for not being careful with the handling of food.  Some people get sick, others don’t but you can bet there were others who were ill, it’s just being hushed up.  Hopefully they’ll write a review on Trip Advisor, to warn other unsuspecting families.  The lesson we learned… Now we check reviews on several sites, stay at really good resorts (remember, their star rating is lower than ours so a 4 or 5 star is a must in Mexico) AND purchase the insurance, just in case.  Glad Shelley is feeling better.

  • web/gadget guru

    If the Dr report says Tiphi, then it is salmonella. And since this is an all inclusive resort, where else could they have gotten it from?

  • Phylliskb

    This is one of the reasons that I don’t go to Mexico.  I don’t want to go to a place where you have to worry about the food,water and crime.

  • DavidS

    I’ve never gotten sick due to a visit to Mexico. I got very sick from E-Coli in Milwaukee in the mid-90’s. It can happen anywhere.

    Where is this place you speak of? :)

  • Jen

    From the sounds of it, Apple’s done everything right and then some here according normal customer service procedures for tour operators in the industry. I am sure the clients were taken to the shiny new gringo hospiten facility at the entrance to Playacar, which is private facility and not open to the general Mexican public (because let’s face it, most tourists going to that part of Mexico really don’t want to have anything to do with actual Mexicans), hence the fees and non-public system. Medical assistance in 90% of the resort areas in Mexico and the Caribbean is a cash and carry basis – to even have a Dr. come to see you at a resort is a $50 +/- call fee before you get referred to a hospital. If these were my clients, I would advise them to get a clean copy of the diagnosis form and then a notarized translation of the form to re-submit to RIU, as per RIU’s advise that upon new evidence they will re-open the case for further evaluation, as a basis for a reimbursement of medical expenses. However, since they used the rooms and consumed the services of the hotel, I’m doubtful RIU would issue a refund for any part of their trip

  • Sue

    I purchase travel insurance for every trip, domestic or international. It just seems like common sense, and I never worry about all the “what ifs” (I get sick, my flight gets cancelled, etc) . I just used my travel insurance to pay for an unexpected trip to an eye doctor in Italy. I paid up front, kept receipts, and filed a claim once home. No hassles at all getting reimbursed, and it made seeking medical care in a foreign country much less anxiety-provoking.

    Secondly, with all that has been written about food and water-borne illnesses in Mexico, it seems foolish to travel there without travel insurance.

  • Chris in NC


    No one thinks its acceptable, and if you somehow want to read into my statement that I find that acceptable, then you are looking to pick a fight. 

    From a travelers perspective, health care delivery in the US (whether you think it is good, bad or ugly) is very different from other parts of the world, especially third world countries. In this case we’re not taking about the US are we? No hospital in the United States denies anyone (citizen or not) from emergency health care. In Mexico and other parts of the world, this occurs. If you travel to a foreign country, it is the travelers responsibility to verify that they have the appropriate insurance policy. Interestingly, the number one risk to a traveler anywhere in the world is not illness, but trauma (falls, sprains, motor vehicle accidents, etc) and this is often overlooked by the traveler

    Pizo, in your situation, you were working there (whether a citizen or not, you were paying taxes). In those countries, if you are a visitor, you will find a very different response (guarantor, payment up front, or insurance). 

  • Chris in NC

    Agreed, have been to many parts of Africa and Asia, and the 2 places I have gotten serious food poisoning were Paris and Washington DC.

    Oh, and the numerous occasions of food poisoning from eating out locally. 

  • Pizo

    Chris,  In all fairness I was only working in one of those countries (the UK), the rest I was just a tourist in.  When I broke my toe in NZ at the hospital I brought up insurance and asked how they would get paid.  They told me not to worry about it, that there would be no need for me to pay a dime or to file a claim with my insurance. 

  • LeeAnneClark

    Chris, I was responding specifically to this statement from you:  “You’re right, the fact that anyone in the US can go into a hospital Emergency Department and get treatment without any guarantee of payment is a farce.”

    I don’t consider it a farce – I consider it basic humanity.  If someone goes to an ER with a life-threatening emergency, basic human morals compel us to allow them to receive the treatment they need to stay alive, whether they can pay for it or not.  It’s unfortunate that this is not practiced in other parts of the world, but I recognize that not all nations are as humane, or are even able to provide that.  But we are one of the wealthiest nations in the world, and while there are certainly disagreements about HOW this care should be financed, I can’t imagine how anyone could consider it a “farce” that we provide it.

    That was my point – not attempting to pick a fight, just attempting to make sure don’t miss this important fact.

  • Lindabator

    Unless it is waterborne salmonella, in which case she would not need to have eaten the food to become ill.  I also find it strange that if it WERE salmonella, no one else in her family, and no one else he could point to at the resort was ill as well.  So it really does sound like waterborne and NOT the food. 

  • Lindabator

    Try the water they swam in – there IS waterborne salmonella, and since NO ONE else at the resort was sick for this family to even point to, food poisoning really doesn’t ring true.

  • Tony A.

    Pardon the pun, but a lot of things written here do not sit well in my stomach. Exactly what is the responsibility of the TRAVELER, herself?

    Countless USA Tax Dollars are spent to fund the CDC, and it has a traveler website. Did she bother to read what the CDC says about Health Information for Travelers to Mexico here:
    Typhoid is mentioned in the CDC’s proposed vacation schedule. It quotes:  Typhoid – Recommended for all unvaccinated people traveling to or working in
    Mexico and Central America, especially if staying with friends or
    relatives or visiting smaller cities, villages, or rural areas where
    exposure might occur through food or water.

    How can you blame Riu or Apple if your own government already warned you that Mexico has a tyhpoid (among other diseases) problem? IMO one is careless if you don’t follow your doctor’s or the CDC’s advice. When I told my primary care physician I was going to Asia, he pulled up the CDC site and  gave me the recommended Vaccines. In fact I had to come back several times for booster shots. Furthermore, if you cannot afford to get sick overseas then buy travel insurance (as a lot of people here recommended).

    No one told Ms. Harper that Mexico is the promise land. In fact, your government told you the opposite. Sorry you got sick but you are ultimately responsible for your own health given the warning your government gave you.

  • Sadie Cee

    The points you make regarding the need to have travel medical insurance coverage are right on the mark.  As you said, “We’re human, not invincible.” 

    I have two permanent travel medical insurance policies that cover me whenever I leave home.  Nevertheless, I purchase additional medical, cancellation and trip interruption coverage with the purchase of my ticket.  It is very costly, but I would never take the risk of going out of country without full coverage. In the case of a claim, I do not expect to recover from all three insurers, but after they all work it out, I expect not to be out of pocket.


  • Sadie Cee

    I believe that Chris should mediate on behalf of the OP.  The case hinges on the medical report from the hospital.  The report was obviously written in Spanish and a certified translator could clear up seeming discrepancies in short order. 

    It is clear that the OP’s wife became ill at the all-inclusive  resort.  The inference that she is/was the only person who became ill is neither here nor there.  As someone has pointed out here it could have taken the only piece of a food that had been contaminated; one touch from the insanitary hands of a food preparer; one brief contact of her hand(s) with her mouth (perhaps nostrils and eyes – not sure if salmonella enters the body by these means) or even the drinking water provided by the resort for her to have become infected.

    The OP’s wife became ill six days after her arrival at the resort.  With an exposure period of between 24 and 72 hours, where else could she have become infected?

    It would seem to me that given the harm that this sort of bad publicity could do to the reputation of the resort chain, settling a genuine claim of less than $2,000 would be a smart gesture.    

  • Garsinmh

    Several years ago, I was also diagnosed with salmonella poisoning that led to emergency surgery. My poisoning happened in Hawaii and the symptoms developed after we were home. My discussions with the SDDC people afterwards indicate many of these food borne cases are hard to track, especially in vacation spots, where the population is very transient. Mr Elliott, just because Riu is denying resposibility, don’t let them off the hook. There is the real possibility that others were sick, but already travelling home .

  • Carver

    I agree wholeheartedly.  Many of the responses are just red herrings.  You have articulated several very plausible examples of how only the mom got sick and not the family

  • Carver

    Why are we discusing typhoid? She got salmonella poisoning which can happen anywhere

  • Tony A.

    Carver, because THYPOID (FEVER) is the DISEASE caused by Salmonella Typhi bacteria. Read:

    There are other types of Salmonella infections but those were not discussed in the diagnosis. Thypoid is treated with antibiotics so I guess that’s why she got those meds.

  • Carver

    The hotel’s response bothers me. Unfortunately it is normative. I got food poisoning in Belguim, and the hotel refused to take any responsibility.  Fortunately, I had the resources and tenacity to prove that they were the likely culprit, including a doctor’s opinion.  They finally backed down and gave me two free nights.

    One point.  Many of the posts are concerned that the OP cannot prove to a scientific certainty that she got sick from the resort. However, the standard, at least in the USA is whether it is more likely than not.  This standard is easily met as itis an all inclusive resort and she ate all meals there.

  • Raven

    I have a MAJOR problem with the hospital the OP was taken to demanding payment up front. However, I’m thinking perhaps we should begin instituting the same policies here since that country is clearly not above fleecing Americans. A little payback, if you will…

  • Raven

    More reason to avoid RIU properties!!!

  • Raven

    Normally, I’d agree with you. However, in this case, salmonella is something that is quite preventable when general safe conditions are maintained in a kitchen.

  • Eric

    Might be a worthwhile endeavor to post your story on as many blogs as possible.  If anyone else at the resort did get sick, the hotel isn’t above lying to you about it to get out of a $2000 bill.  If you could find someone else who got sick and prove the hotel covered it up, you might be able to turn the screws on them by threatening legal action.

  • LeeAnneClark

    Raven, I hear ya…but think about what you’re saying.  You’re talking about denying lifesaving healthcare to someone…possibly resulting in that person’s DEATH…because of something that has nothing to do with them personally.  How would you feel if it was your son, your daughter, or YOU, who was denied treatment and died in this “payback”?  Should a person lose their LIFE because they don’t have money?  That shouldn’t happen ANYWHERE – not here, not in Mexico, not anywhere. 

    Two wrongs don’t make a right.

    I do realize you’re being rhetorical, but still…sometimes basic humanity is ignored in these discussions about emergency healthcare.  These are people’s LIVES were talking about here.

    I’m appalled at that Mexican hospital’s actions as well, and I’m grateful I live in a country that doesn’t do that to people.

  • LFH

    There exists a question of fact here: did Mrs. Harper get sick as a result of some type of negligence within the control of the resort? It is hard to say based on the facts presented. Even with additional information, the cause may not be conclusive one way or the other. But that is the very reason we have judicial systems . . . to make findings of fact.

    If there is a reasonable basis to conclude that Mrs. Harper got sick as a result of negligence, she should consider suing. Even though this resort location is in Mexico, the company also has a location in Miami, Florida, and therefore assets within the United States. It is likely that the resort purposefully goes after business from within the United States, so it quite possible that jurisdiction could be obtained over the resort. In addition, Apple Vacations benefits from selling the resort’s services. It made money from doing business with Mrs. Harper, and it probably had a duty to not sell resort services would make her sick. Thus, a lawsuit would likely also name Apple Vacations, a company headquartered in Newtown Square, Penna. Depending on the places where the resort and Apple Vacation so and solicit business, the terms of any contracts signed that may limit the legal remedies available, the residence of Mrs. Harper, and the relevant long-arm statute, it may be possible for Mrs. Harper to sue both companies in a local court. This does not constitute legal advice, and a lawyer should be consulted for such advice and to assist in determining the risks and rewards of litigation.

    I continue to find it offensive to hear travel suppliers state that insurance should have been purchased to protect the traveler. Insurance can indeed protect someone against their own neglect. But when the neglect is that of others, the other party is liable, and there is no reason to let that other party off the hook by having the injured person rely on a third-party insurer. The only reasons for insuring against another person’s negligence are (1) the risk that the other person is insolvent or otherwise judgment-proof, (2) the cost of paying for one’s own counsel, and (3) uncertainty about causation and thus uncertainty about prevailing. Not having insurance against another person’s neglect is not a bar to recovery . . . it simply means that one has to sue that other person.

  • patb

    True. BUY HEALTH INSURANCE if traveling abroad. Yes, it costs extra and may never ever need it over decades of traveling…BUT …that one time you have an accident  or get really ill , you will be so thankful you had it. I bought travel insurance for years and never had to use it. THEN, I planned a trip with a friend. Then her Mom died. I got about 95% back . I also had it when I went to Iceland from the USA when the ash was only affecting the EU .I thought for awhile I may have to contact the insurance company but the Icelanders got us on a flight routed through the EU. But insurance would have offset the extra expenses. It was a good feeling to know that you had that packet in your pocket.

  • patb

    I am sure that most resorts would NEVER admit there is an epidemic of ANYTHING. To admit that fact,would be a loss of revenue…present and future.

  • Carver

    You make a few good, but not entirely correct points.

    1.  Negligence.  If the OP got sick as a result of the conduct of the hotel or its agents, strict liability, a lower standard, not negligence would apply.

    2 Apple vacations.  I’m not sure that they are liable. For physical goods, anyone who places the item in commerce is liable.  Not sure about services?  Joe?

    3.  Contracts.  They can limit liability.  That’s why you sue around the contract thus the terms become irrelevant.

    4. Insurance. Well said.

  • patb

    One reason why we need a single payor system nationwide. Government run like medicaid which only costs 3% to administer versus 12% through private insurance who really WANT to deny benefits for profit motives.

  • Tony A.

    LFH, Practically speaking, how does Ms. Harper prove that the Hotel Riu or Apple Vacations was negligent? On the other hand, the CDC says that 21.5 million people outside the USA and other developed (advanced) countries are infected with Typhoid each year. So can we simply assume that this is the risk we take if we travel to undeveloped countries? In other words, the probability of getting sick to your stomach is pretty high in poor countries that we really shouldn’t be going there if we cannot take the risk? Is this akin to getting shot in a war zone?

  • Jjones

    LeeAnne is always looking to pick a fight, condescend to a differing opinion, and/or scold commenters as to how and what they should or should not be posting, all while perched atop that high horse of hers.

  • LeeAnneClark

    Ooh, lovely – vulgarities on Chris’s blog.  Dropping the F-bomb always gives one such credibility.  :::rolling eyes:::  Your post will be gone quickly, as Christopher generally doesn’t allow obscenities on his page.

    Classic tactic when one is bested by logic and intelligent debate:  attack the person, not the ideas.  Can’t participate in an intelligent discussion?  Drop an F-bomb!  Always makes you look brilliant.

  • LFH

    Many of your points are important details, and illustrate the importance of knowing what the contract says (if there is a contract) and knowing what law applies (consider if the law of Quintana Roo were to be applied!). Things we don’t really know from the information provided, and things that her attorney would certainly investigate before bringing an action. But at its heart, the outcome relies on the facts, and thus it is the factfinding process that is critical.

  • LFH

    Negligence is when someone should have done something but did not. There are many ways to prove negligence, depending on the applicable law and what evidence is available. Ultimately, it is question of fact that the factfinder would have to find it more likely that a party was negligent, or that the party was not negligent. It is the task of the lawyer to put on enough proof to persuade the jury to find in his or her favor. Juries are not predictable. Or, as another poster suggested, if strict liability were to apply, then the hurdle would be less. But we don’t know the details, so it is difficult to analyze the situation much further.

  • LFH

    The question for which you need the answer is causation. Was there something that Riu or Apple did that caused the illness? Was the cause Mrs. Harper’s decision to travel to Mexico, and neither Riu nor Apple did anything that caused the illness? I don’t know, and I’m guessing that no one will ever know for sure. It is a question for the factfinder to decide.

  • DavidS

    Negligence. If the hotel had sanitary measures in place to control the spread of disease and could document they were being adhered to, is it still possible to get Montezuma’s revenge in Mexico? (Even with strict sanitary controls?)

  • Brooklyn

    Not so simple.  Check your health insurance policy: mine has excellent overseas coverage and the website includes (buried several layers deep, but it’s there) a list of the hospitals in each country that will take my insurance card as direct payment rather than making me pay upfront and then seek reimbursement.  And if I die abroad, I can probably be cremated there; ashes are much easier to transport than a coffin.  See how easy life (and death) can be?

  • john4868

    Negligence … You mean like failing to get a vaccine recommended by the CDC for the area you are traveling to?
    Last time I checked negligence was supposed to be based on the reasonable actions of the individual. I would define getting vaccinated against known diseases in an area you are traveling to as a reasonable action. See link below for the CDC site clearly listing Typhoid

    Also note that the CDC lists the incubation period as 6-30 days not the 24 – 72 hours listed in the article.

    She ended up getting something that is common in the area. Maybe she forgot to wash her hands one time (not the resorts fault) or maybe she got a drink at the airport from a water fountain. Whatever occurred, it wasn’t a systemic failure of the resort or there would have been a rash of cases.
    Ultimately, she went to a country with different health standards, failed to protect herself with the correct vaccines and got sick. I’m sorry but the burden of proof is on her and she hasn’t brought anything to the table other than she got sick.

  • emanon256

    I could not agree more!

  • Robyn Chapman

    That’s why you buy travel insurance. And if you choose not to buy travel insurance, that’s the risk you take. I would be on the Harpers side if there were other cases of illness that had occurred during their stay, but that’s not the case.

    They probably ate food outside of the hotel at some point but aren’t willing to admit it in the hopes of getting compensation from the hotel because they irresponsibly chose not to purchase health insurance.

    They should just pay the bill and buy the insurance the next time they travel. Lesson learned.

  • DavidS

    The more I think about this one, the more inclined I am to let it drop.

    Someone got sick in Mexico. Happens all the time. It sucks…but part of the known risk in going to Mexico.

  • Bodega

    And this is why lawyers get a bad name! 

  • eh

    Should have purchased the trip protection or your own insurance… none of this would even be an issue. You never regret purchasing it, you often regret not purchasing it! It may not have been food poisoning, may just have been that your wife’s system, reacted to a new environment.  

  • Mindy

    Why does something always have to be someones fault? Why as a country are we so litigous? If you only buy comprehensive coverage on your car, and not collision – are you really surprised later when your insurance company doesn’t cover you for the collision you get in? People get sick, it is a bummer, but she recovered fully…move on people, please…

  • Mindy

    Let me guess, LFH didn’t get accepted to law school and he has an ax to grind.

  • LFH

    Alas, a wrong guess. In fact, my practice does not include personal injury cases and thus there are no axes to grind in either direction.

  • LFH

    Lawyers should not get a bad name from attempting to make injured people whole from the bad acts of others. If the resort or the travel seller did something wrong, then it would be proper for Mrs. Harper to recover from them. If they did not do anything wrong, then Mrs. Harper should not recover. Unfortunately, some lawyers do not seek those aspirational ideals, act unfairly or unethically, and bring a black eye upon others.

  • LFH

    John is on the right track. The question is a matter of fact. Did the hotel alone cause the illness? Did Mrs. Harper contribute to causing the illness? If so, to what extent was her contribution? Was Mrs. Harper’s mere presence in Mexico the cause of the illness? Might Mrs. Harper have been ill before even getting to Mexico, and could she be trying to pull a scam? We don’t know, and that’s why a factfinder is necessary to determine causation. If Mrs. Harper were to seek recovery against the resort and the travel seller then indeed she would have the burden of proof (she might not now have sufficient proof, but through discovery it is possible that sufficient proof could be had). We simply do not know, and it is premature to state with any degree of certainty who, if anyone, is accountable.

  • Chris Harper

    To answer some questions posted below:

    * We switched to a high-deductable HSA insurance plan this year to control our insurance costs – so we had to pay this out of pocket (we’re not over the deductable).

    * My wife (Shelley) is very concerned with cleanliness – she used hand sanitizer liberally throughout the trip. She even uses a napkin to avoid touching condiment containers on the table (she does this even in the US!)

    * All the water she consumed was from a bottle – not from the tap. She even used bottled water to brush her’s and the kid’s teeth.

    * We already tried contacting the hospital to get more information – even went as far to craft the e-mail in Spanish with the help of google translate. They declined to give us anything more than they had already supplied us. They are located right outside the hotel district and the hotel is shiny and new (by Mexican standards) and I assume they don’t want to anger the hotels that are sending them their business.

    Thanks for the ideas – we will definitely be looking at purchasing travel insurance in the future!

  • Chris Harper

    Should also note that “Salmonella Typhi” is the bacterium responsible for both food poisoning (salmonella poisoning) and “Typhoid Fever”. Typhoid Fever occurs if the bacteria makes it out of the digestive tract and enters the blood stream. See

  • Elisa

    Not all of us have health insurance in our home countries – most decent countries have universal health care so that we only need coverage when we travel ;)

  • Denis Jbegin

    Negligence is key here. Even if the Hotel is proved beyond doubt to be the source of the infection “reasonable care” still applies. People get sick from eating food, if the property took all reasonable steps to prevent people from getting sick, but someone gets sick anyways, they are not liable.

    Try suing for choking on a bone, from a “Boneless” salmon fillet ordered in a restaurant. The Judge will tell you fish have bones and you can’t get every one out, and be more careful next time