“It is so unjust to poison someone and get off scot-free”


Lynn Friedman’s daughter, Emma, became violently ill during her family vacation to Secrets Maroma Beach Riviera Cancun. When she returned to the States, she was hospitalized for five days. The diagnosis: acute food poisoning.

“Based on the timing and the test results, the doctors are convinced that she was poisoned at the resort,” says Friedman.

She wants a refund for her vacation from either her travel agent, tour operator or the resort. But so far, her efforts have come up short.

“No one will claim responsibility,” she says.

Friedman wants me to help. But as I review the details of her case, I’m not sure who to ask for relief — or even where to start. And that’s where you come in, dear readers. Please tell me what to do with this one.

The visit, which happened in April, was supposed to be a relaxing family vacation. But shortly after their arrival, Emma started to feel sick.

“We knew Emma was ill on the trip,” explains Friedman. “But we did not understand the cause.”

Emma had her own room, and wanted to give her family space to enjoy their much-needed vacation. Friedman says, in retrospect, her daughter was probably more ill than they suspected.

“She simply carried on and told us she didn’t feel like eating. Only on the plane home was it clear that she was very ill. I took her to the doctor our first day back home,” she says.

The doctors back in the States said she had Salmonella. That’s no tummy ache — more than 400 people die of Salmonella every year.

Friedman says she’s certain the resort is to blame, because the family only ate at the hotel.

She adds,

For the last six weeks, I have devoted hours of my time and much emotional energy emailing and faxing two managers at Secrets Maroma, a supervisor at Apple Vacations, and two individuals (the travel agent and the owner of the company) at Travel House of Barrington.

I have sent medical records (including the test results and diagnosis, dates of hospitalization, etc.) and impassioned letters.

My daughter has been suffering terribly, we have spent a huge amount of time and a great deal of money because of someone else’s inappropriate behavior, and we cannot seem to receive the compensation we believe we deserve.

It is so unjust to poison someone and get off scot-free.

Friedman’s demand is simple: She wants her $5,753 back, which represents the entire amount she spent on her all-inclusive vacation package.

She believes the hotel is trying to throw her case out on a technicality.

In my distress, I accidentally told the hotel that Emma was poisoned at our first meal at the resort; I later corrected that error and told them that she was poisoned at the hotel on our first full day there. They used that understandable error as the excuse to throw out our LEGITIMATE case.

So far, her travel agency has asked her to fill out a medical claim form, but Friedman says she already has medical insurance. She just wants her money back.

I get a fair number of tainted food cases, and the problem is conclusively proving the poisoning happened at a restaurant, hotel or on a cruise ship. In defense of the hotel, the incubation period for Salmonella is 24 to 48 hours, so Emma might have been infected from another source.

I’m not sure if Friedman’s travel agent or tour operator are responsible for this vacation gone wrong in any way, other than that they might have recommended the hotel and helped her make the reservation.

Also, refunding the entire vacation seems like a tall order. After all, the family flew to their destination, enjoyed the accommodations and at least some of the food at the resort.

Should Maroma Beach refund everything, or just part of the vacation? What responsibility, if any, should the agency and tour operator bear?

Is Friedman owed anything for the Salmonella episode, or should she just chalk this up to an expensive, and exceedingly painful, lesson learned about watching what you eat when you’re traveling abroad?

I don’t know. This is one of the more difficult cases to cross my desk in recent memory.

Should I mediate Lynn Friedman's case with Maroma Beach?

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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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  • Liz

    Food poisoning IS a bacterial response :-) We just tend to use layman’s terms.

  • bodega3

    The company that takes care of their customers would be the TA. They will sell the TO that works best for a travel need. Apple is not a top of the line TO and since this agency is a Virtuoso agency, there is a question to why they booked with Apple to begin with. As for being a repeat client, the LW would go with whatever TO the agent comes back with. In this case, Apple is right in its stand, so the agent won’t have a bad feeling about them regarding how they treated their client.

  • Skeptic

    Salmonella sucks — I got a bout from eating chicken at a Boston restaurant when I used to live there. But life is life and responsibility for enforcing health laws rests with local health authorities, not vacation package providers. The Beantown restaurant did not compensate me for a long weekend spent in agony in my bathroom, and if Boston’s health dept. fined it, the money went towards the compliance program, not into my pocket. While it would have been nice for the hotel to have done something special for Emma (hard to imagine what, though, given her condition — flowers?), if you want to be sure you get compensated when you get sick on vacation, spend an extra $25 and buy trip insurance.

    Not all tragedies in life are reimbursable.

  • Lindabator

    Actually a VERY nice resort – I wouldn’t let one instance in years put you off — :)

  • John Baker

    AM Resorts is a hotel management company much like Starwood. Each individual property may have a different owner but the resort management and operation is provided by the management company.

    For example… Turnberry in Scotland is owned by Donald Trump but managed by Starwood.

    So technically you could both be correct.

  • Jim


  • Raven_Altosk

    How can I be certain they would not repeat this garbage?

  • innchfromnj

    Food poisoning is nasty. I think that the resort should do something to placate this traveler, but a refund for the whole trip is unreasonable. Perhaps a pro rated amount for HER portion of the trip. Or a credit for a future visit.

  • LeeAnneClark

    OMG…I’m laughing so hard I’m crying. :) :) :)

    I’m going to Bali in a couple of months. Having been there, I’m well aware that it’s highly unlikely I will make it through the whole three week trip without a bout of Bali Belly. I’m buying one of these!

  • wendye

    Did she have travel insurance? That might have helped.

  • Cronk

    Since the bug could have come from anywhere and be spread by anyone, you can’t hold the hotel responsible for having it on their premises. It’s unreasonable to expect them to follow every guest and wipe every surface they touch with a bleach-soaked rag. This is a big bummer, but could have been less so if the girl had admitted how sick she was and sought out some Cipro or other antibiotic. I don’t see a case for the family to recover costs, just an expensive lesson in travel preparedness.

  • Daddydo

    How can any medical person define a day that salmonella began. If that were an exact science, then what food caused it? Delete.

  • GG

    Four Seasons Hotel, Toronto?

    That’s a joke when compared to other similarly priced properties. AAA and high-end hotels… what can one say.

  • anacoluthon

    Exactly. This is a difficult case, but the OP must understand that it’s impossible to prove that the daughter became sick at the hotel. The incubation period for salmonella is 24-48 hours, so if she became sick during the first day, it’s unlikely that the hotel food was the culprit.

    This is a case why travel insurance and health insurance that covers travelers is so crucial. The OP is being totally unreasonable by asking the entire vacation cost to be reimbursed. If she had asked for just the daughter’s portion to be refunded, that would have been reasonable and the hotel probably would have complied.

  • aerix88

    I voted yes, but with the caveat that they don’t deserve the entire vacation refunded, seeing as though it didn’t impact anyone but the daughter (as heartless though that may sound). I also don’t feel the tour operator or TA would owe anything either.

  • Randy Culpepper

    I haven’t been anywhere in Mexico or Central America, high end or not, where you can flush the tp.

  • naoma

    I believe this is an “entitled” person who claims all charges be refunded. Glad Elliott
    did as he did. Anyone can get food poisoning. And from even a fine place. It is
    awful, but…