How to get help for a “horrible, frightening and costly” cruise

By | July 8th, 2016

To say Richard Zitser had a bad cruise might be something of an understatement. And to suggest there’s a quick fix, or any fix, might be untrue.

Zitser, a passenger on a Caribbean cruise on the Oceania Insignia, says he was removed from the ship after complaining of vertigo. He bounced between a hospital in Barbados and the cruise ship for several days before coming back to the States.

He wants Oceania to cover the $30,000 he had to spend to get home — money he says he wouldn’t have needed to spend if Oceania hadn’t shown him the plank.

I’m not sure if this is an advocate-able — or winnable — case, but there are plenty of takeaways for all of us. I’ll get to those in a second.

First, let’s hear from Zitser. I’ll give you the abbreviated version, but you can also review his lengthy complaint on our help forum.

My wife and I had a horrible, frightening and costly experience while cruising on the Oceania Insignia.

We had gone to the ship’s doctor because I had a mild case of vertigo, which I have not had in five years. The doctor insisted it was much more than vertigo, never checking my eyes or ears.

My wife used her cell phone to call our doctor, who told the ship’s doctor, who told the doctor it was simply vertigo. But the ship’s doctor sent us by ambulance to a hospital in Barbados.

I was abruptly and rudely thrown onto a gurney, taken down a steep, loading plank and into an old ambulance.

Thus began a six-day ordeal, where my wife and I were locked in a dirty “clinic” by a doctor who never examined me in any way whatsoever and sent a form to the ship saying I was unseaworthy, thus forcing us off the ship.

We were locked in the clinic from the inside. A sympathetic employee helped us escape.

We made it back to the ship only to find out we were not allowed on the ship, because I was “unseaworthy.”

You get the idea.

Zitser wants to know if he can recover any of the $30,000 in estimated expenses that he incurred as the result of his incarceration in Barbados.

This isn’t an easy case. First, there’s Oceania’s ticket contract, the adhesion contract to which Zitser agreed. Section 8 makes clear that the cruise ship can remove him for almost any reason. (“We reserve the right, in Our sole discretion, to deny embarkation to any person for any reason other than discrimination on the basis of race, religion, national origin, gender, sexual preference, disability or other legally impermissible classification.”)

Second, it appears that offloading the Zitsers was the result of a diagnosis of the onboard medical staff. Their personal physician in the States said it was vertigo, but the ship’s MD disagreed. Who wins? I would go with the doctor who is attending to Zitser in person.

The real breakdown happened when the couple was removed from the ship and taken to a clinic in Barbados. Were they really incarcerated? If so, maybe their first call should have been to the U.S. embassy. I’m certain the staff there takes a dim view of imprisoning Americans in a hospital.

I’m not sure what to do with this case. The long case description in our help forums really makes me wonder about what Oceania has to say about the Zitsers. Beyond that, there’s no way any of us should board a ship without travel insurance and a medical evacuation policy in hand. The Zitsers could have been flown back to the U.S. quickly; instead, they languished in the Caribbean, waiting to be freed.

Should I take Richard Zitser's case?

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  • Rebecca

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many giant waving red flags before, ever, in a story here. Sprint away. Don’t walk, don’t even run, just sprint.

  • Pat

    I hope your 10 foot pole is near by. This is a case for a lawyer to review and take if they feel there is cause to sue. This is not a case for an advocate.

  • mbods2002

    I voted “Yes” just because I’m curious as to what REALLY happened. Please let us know if you take the case!

  • Jeff W.

    You are never going to get 30K from Oceania. The best you might get is a pro-rated refund on the portion of the cruise the Zister’s could not take. And even then, it might be spotty, as it seems the vertigo is a pre-existing condition (“mild case of vertigo, which I have not had in five years”)

    Stay away.

  • Stephen0118

    After reading the thread in the forum, it looks like they’ve already submitted the paperwork to the travel insurance company but, due to a post office error, it went to the wrong zip code. I voted yes, but, Chris, I would just wait to see what the outcome with the insurance company is.

    I do wonder, as some posters in the forum did, why he didn’t just get a pack of Dramamine, which is available Over-the-Counter, instead of seeing the ship’s doctor. That’s what I take when I get vertigo or dizziness. After a quick nap (as Dramamine makes you sleepy), I’m fine.

  • Jason Hanna

    Anyone else just have the words “Thirty Effing Thousand Dollars???” running through their head?

  • Pat

    The reason they might not been able to leave the clinic or hospital was because the bill was not paid. I know a couple people that have ended up in a hospital in the Caribbean and Mexico and they could not be released until the bill was paid. They want to make sure they get paid since it will be hard to collect once you leave their country.

  • DChamp56

    $30,000 to get back from Barbados? Seriously?

  • RichardII

    Red alert… There are, with virtual certainty, facts missing from the Zitser’s story.

  • RichardII

    And, to keep things fair and even… this site has often advocated for cruise safety, particularly people going overboard. Now a cruise company actually seems to do something to prevent that and there are suggestions they are out of line. You can’t have it both ways.

  • Pat

    I thought the same thing. I dealt with vertigo once. I could not drive and once I got better, it took a while before I could drive in heavy traffic. Anything that would cause my head to turn quickly made me dizzy and unbalanced. If a person reported they had vertigo and ended up getting dizzy and falling overboard, that would be a big money lawsuit.

    If you want a public example of how quickly and bad it can hit, just remember Jason Day at last year’s US Open at Chambers Bay.

  • Regina Litman

    Same here!

  • Lindabator

    try Bonine next time – works like Dramamine, but I don’t suffer the sleepies like with Dramamine. :)

  • Alan Gore

    Never admit not feeling well on a cruise unless it’s a clear-cut life threatening situation like appendicitis or a heart problem! By going to sick bay with a mild complaint, Zinser gave them an open opportunity to throw him off the ship and keep his money, which is exactly what they did.

  • John Galbraith

    Couple of points I don’t understand. Where does $30k come from. In the forum he says “and lastly with some hope for us to recover over $10,000 of expenses over 6 days of horror while missing our cruise of a life time.

    Also the article says “The doctor insisted it was much more than vertigo, never checking my eyes or ears.” Yet in the forum he says “The doctor at that point took a little flash lite and looked in both ears claiming there is nothing wrong with my ears.”

  • John Galbraith

    Don’t take the case – he has already gone to 4 lawyers who have refused to take the case. ” I have spoken to four Miami lawyers in Miami who advertise to be ‘great’ travel lawyers, after several days they have all turned down my case claiming among other things that Oceania is too big to sue…..their legal dept is strong and large. “

  • Bill

    Because if the vertigo was a symptom of something worse and he had remained on the boat and god forbid died or something I am sure his widow wouldn’t have sued the cruise line for an improper diagnoses.

  • Rebecca

    Add this red flag to the list. Thanks for posting this here. I just couldn’t bring myself to read this thread.

  • John Galbraith

    Hi Rebecca – you are most welcome – it took me 4 attempts just to be able to read his posting. it is long, very very long. As you say this is another red flag. There are quite a few!

  • John Galbraith

    Hi Pat – he says he has already done that in the forum “I have spoken to four Miami lawyers in Miami who advertise to be ‘great’ travel lawyers, after several days they have all turned down my case claiming among other things that Oceania is too big to sue…..their legal dept is strong and large. ”

    As you say hopefully there is a 10 foot pole around.

  • Michael__K

    So why wasn’t he allowed to re-board after all those expensive tests found nothing wrong, and no diagnosis was offered?

  • John Galbraith

    Hi Michael – He was allowed back on board in the end. He says though he had to send a whole day unpacking and two days in bed suffering from PTSD. “We kind of forced ourselves to enjoy the trip.”

    I think he had six left on board.

  • Michael__K
  • Michael__K

    If you are looking for red flags, you might want to check the doctor to whose care these passengers were involuntarily committed…

  • Michael__K

    About five days later he was allowed to board.

    The Barbados doctor who the ship originally sent them to took over $5,000, offered no diagnosis, no treatment. He ordered a CAT scan performed at another clinic which found no problem and questioned “who sent you here and why? [this] was a waste of our machine….”

    And yet they still weren’t allowed back on board at that point…

  • Michael__K

    They can look after passenger safety and give passengers appropriate medical advice without forcing their passengers to undergo expensive medical tests without consent under the locked custody of a controversial local doctor with a rap sheet and a reputation for gouging.

  • CC Gorman

    I followed this forum thread very closely, and there are several details in the blog post that differ from the thread. For example, in the thread, the writer spent significant time and money catching up with the ship in Brazil, but Chris states that the writer spent money to get HOME.

    Did Mr Zitser change his story in private communications with Chris?
    Did Chris not read the entire lengthy thread before blogging about the case?
    Maybe I have just misread the facts discussed in the thread(quite possible).

    I found Mr. Zitser’s story horrible but believable–and I’m a cynic.
    The writer sought advice from the forum and received it.
    His daughter is an attorney, and he has sought advice from 4 others.
    He has travel insurance and has filed a claim under the policy.
    What is left to advocate until he gets final word from his insurance?

  • Michael__K

    Nearly a week of medical tests plus extensive travel to catch the ship in Brazil.

    Although in the forum, the expenses are described as “over $10,000”, so I’m not sure where the $30,000 comes from (later medical bills?)

  • CC Gorman

    This is the right guy. He is Guyanese, went to med school and residency in the US. He lied to immigration in Barbados while seeking residency, and should have been deported, but the government is corrupt . He is a registered sex offender in the US, stemming from an assault on his wife. Very sketchy credentials. He owns the ambulance company which transported the OP to his “hospital”

  • Michael__K

    If so, maybe their first call should have been to the U.S. embassy.

    According to the passenger’s account in the forum:

    My wife yelled I want to speak to the American Embassy, he [Dr. Sparman] said there is none.

    Of course, there is in fact a US embassy in Barbados

    And Dr. Sparman came to Barbados after the state of Tennessee revoked his permit to practice medicine there. “The court document noted in part that the action was taken “to protect the health and welfare of the citizens of the state of Tennessee.”

  • CC Gorman

    The port people get kickbacks from the ambulance company(owned by Dr. Sparman)for patients delivered to his clinic. Does the ship’s doctor get kickbacks?–it happens, maybe it did here, but it’s hard to prove.

  • Rebecca

    I tried, honestly. Then I remembered I’d been putting off plucking my eyebrows. So I did that instead. I just couldn’t make it!

  • John Galbraith

    Oh i was i had remembered something like that – anything in fact.

  • Mel65

    Holy corruption, Batman!

  • MarieTD

    There are different causes for vertigo. Dramamine or Bonine isn’t a cure-all for all types.

  • You should not take this case. “Full of holes.” He must absorb what he “lost” in cash
    and MOVE ON.

  • joycexyz

    Too big to sue? Most likely, all four lawyers smelled a strong odor.

  • joycexyz

    Curiosity is not a good reason to get involved. The story is chock full of holes and improbablilities. Chris has to keep his credibility.

  • John Galbraith

    HI Joy – Oh i agree – I think if they said that it was just an excuse not to take the work

  • cscasi

    “Beyond that, there’s no way any of us should board a ship without travel insurance and a medical evacuation policy in hand. The Zitsers could have been flown back to the U.S. quickly; instead, they languished in the Caribbean, waiting to be freed.”
    A great comment. I believe those advocating for the use of travel insurance that would have alleviated many of the problems we have seen in previous posts here, would agree.
    Having said that, I feel that there are too many “fishy” issues here and we only have one side of the story. Why would they have been locked up in a clinic in Barbados? Certainly the ship would have arranged to send them to a reputable facility?
    I can understand the ship not letting Richard Zeister back on board once he was sent ashore for medical care/treatment because he did not have a medical clearance from the doctor ashore.
    It’s pretty obvious that his (most likely frivolous claim is going nowhere, especially after 4 Miami lawyers have turned him down).
    This needs to placed in the round file!

  • Annie M

    If he thought it was vertigo why didn’t he just buy some seasickness pills in the ship store since that’s what vertigo is treated with? If he’s had it before, he should know what the treatment is.nand he could have simply said “never mind, I know what it is and can treat it myself?”

    Glad Chris said travel insurance would have made a difference. Expensive lesson learned.

  • Bob Davis


  • Richard Mengelkoch

    There is a city in Illinois named Effingham. They sell some clever Tee shiirts

  • Blamona

    can you give us the $30,000 breakdown?

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