When Karen Del Zoppo’s husband suffered a heart attack two years ago, he sustained severe anoxic brain damage, which left him with the mental state and motor skills of a two-year-old.
Del Zoppo didn’t want that to stop the family from enjoying a vacation. As a registered nurse, she’s more than capable of caring for her mentally handicapped husband. So she recently booked a getaway for the couple and her brother and sister-in-law — a western Mediterranean cruise that left from Venice, Italy.
And that’s when the incident happened.
Before I get to the details, a warning: This case is not for the squeamish and it contains some adult themes. If you are easily offended, please stop reading now.
After checking into the cabin, Del Zoppo and the rest of the party went to the pool and enjoyed a few drinks after the long flight. At one point, her husband stood, walked to the edge of the pool, and relieved himself.
I did run to my husband to attempt him to stop, but he gently pushed me aside to finish his basic need.
Please be aware, he did not pull his bathing suit down, but covered his penis by pulling it out of the top of the bathing suit, and held his hand around it, and nothing could be seen except the stream by the pool’s edge.
The passengers who witnessed Del Zoppo’s accident were outraged.
One irate passenger who saw this told me that my husband was an animal, and belonged in a cage, and not on this cruise. He continued to repeat this incident to anyone who would listen, and made an incident report.
Things did not end well. A Holland America representative suggested her husband might be a threat, because passengers saw her husband pushing her away while he tried to do his business. But she says they weren’t aware of his condition.
Anoxic brain damage happens when the brain doesn’t get enough oxygen for several minutes or longer, and the damage is said to be permanent. In other words, while her husband looks like an adult, he is very much a child.
My husband cannot even make a fist, and lacks motor control in his hands. He can’t even open a soda bottle or jar for me. His equilibrium is also abnormal.
He has never been anything but friendly. Even the security guards that were posted at our room, said he was no problem and extremely pleasant.
But Holland America had made its decision: It said her brother and sister-in-law could stay, but insisted they disembark immediately, before the ship set sail. They returned to the States, and were told they couldn’t get a refund for their portion of the cruise.
“I am beside myself with this treatment that we encountered, and the loss of a great deal of my hard-earned money,” she told me.
She wants me to help her get a refund.
Holland America’s cruise contract, which passengers must agree to before boarding, is clear about its liability: it has none.
Section 6 of its contract spells it out, saying guests may be removed from a cruise for any reason, including,
(a) you are or become in such condition as to be unfit to travel or dangerous or obnoxious to other passengers or employees; (b) you are inadmissible under the immigration or other laws of any country included in the Cruise, Cruisetour or Land Trip itinerary or fail at any time to possess required travel documents; or (c) you fail to abide by the rules or orders of the Master or other ship’s officers.
And what are your remedies if you’re kicked off the ship? You have none.
If transportation is denied after departure, you and your baggage may be landed or transported to any port or location that we select, without any resulting liability for refund, payment, compensation or credit on our part. If you are disembarked or any other actions are taken for any reason pursuant to this paragraph A.6, you will not be entitled to any refunds or damages.
I have mixed feelings about this one. Yes, I could talk to Holland America about this involuntary disembarkation, and it might review the incident and offer her something — a cruise credit or a partial refund of the $11,000 she spent. Based on my past experience dealing with Holland America, I would say it’s unlikely.
But the cruise line was well within its rights to remove the passenger, at least as far as its cruise contract is concerned. Should it have done so? That’s debatable.
Update: (10 a.m.) The debate appears to be over. I just received a note from Holland America that while it stands by its decision to disembark the couple, it has decided to give them a refund. It says the decision was made last week. I am contacting the customer now to confirm.
Update: (1:30 p.m.) And here’s the confirmation from the customer to my question of whether Holland America had offered a refund.
Yes, they are. I kept posting on their facebook page. I think they weren’t too happy with it! I’m so GLAD!