Cruise Outrage: Mom Dies, Family Billed $6K

When the unimaginable happens and someone dies while on a cruise vacation, some consumers warn that families may be on the hook for thousands of dollars in unexpected medical expenses and a fight with the cruise ship company.

Taryn Smith’s mother died while on a cruise, but instead of compassion from the cruise line, she says what her family got was a $6,000 credit card bill and a fight with the cruise line trying to resolve medical expenses for her mother’s death.

"My parents were celebrating their 35th wedding anniversary and they were going on a cruise with Royal Caribbean," she recalled, noting how much her parents loved vacationing at sea.

While cruising through the Caribbean, though, the couple’s anniversary trip ended tragically.

“My mother had a medical emergency that she ultimately did not live through,” Smith said.

Devastated, Smith’s grieving was compounded by anger when just a few weeks after her mother’s death, her father received charges on his credit card for $6,000 in medical expenses.

“We weren’t trying to not pay for these services,” Smith said. “We just wanted to pay through a reasonable channel, which would be health insurance.”

But the cruise line refused to wait for insurance to pay the long list of medical expenses.

“The ship increased speed in order to reach San Juan eight hours ahead of schedule, this cost many thousands of dollars which we did not pass on to you,” a representative wrote.

The billed charges pushed the couple’s card over the limit, and the credit card company — BBVA — closed the account and sent it to collections.

“They put people after profit,” Smith said. “I wonder how often this happens and I think people should know what they’re getting themselves into when they plan a dream vacation.”

The NBC4 I-Team reached out to Royal Caribbean repeatedly. While never responding to the inquiries, Smith said the company eventually agreed to reverse all medical charges.

Also contacted by the I-Team, BBVA assured NBC4 that “all collection efforts” were “discontinued,” and there would be “no negative impact on credit.” BBVA also sent the widower a $1,500 gift card.

“I don’t think anyone goes on a trip expecting to die,” said travel agent Tama Holve.

Holve said this family’s experience proves it can happen, though, and the cruise line acted within the law.

“The most important thing for a traveler to do is to make sure that their personal insurance covers them while they’re traveling — and most don’t,” she said.

To avoid having the charges end up on your card, consider travel insurance, which will immediately pay off medical expenses, and even cover the cost of evacuation in certain emergencies.

A policy like that wouldn’t have prevented the death of Smith’s mother, but might have saved the family a lot of frustration.

“You have to be ready for it, ready to be a nightmare that comes with a lot of bureaucracy that can have a severe domino effect on your entire life,” Smith said.

Smith’s dad has submitted a claim with his health insurance company — and is still waiting to see if the company will reimburse Royal Caribbean.

Travel experts predict 23 million people will vacation at sea this year.

Currently there are no records kept regarding illnesses, injuries or deaths, but some lawmakers are trying to change that through a bill working its way through Congress.

Find out more about what you should know when it comes to medical care of cruise ships here

Find out more about travel insurance here

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