Here’s why a $16,000 luggage reimbursement claim will always fall flat

Luggage reimbursement

After her recent flight on Interjet, Lynda Leibrock discovered that unidentified “airline goo” ruined three pieces of her luggage. She hoped the airline would quickly pay her luggage reimbursement request– all $16,000 of it.

Things didn’t work out the way she had hoped.

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Leibrock’s case is an example of how placing an unrealistic number on your luggage reimbursement request can end with your claim being dismissed outright as preposterous. It is also a reminder to document your damages with clear photos and request compensation based on those damages and your policy limits.

An unrealistic luggage reimbursement request

“My luggage came back from Mexico in some type of oily substance. I didn’t know if it was toxic, ” Leibrock initially told me. “And not knowing whether this substance was toxic, I threw everything out.”

Leibrock was under the impression that because she had purchased trip insurance from RoamRight that she would be reimbursed for all of her discarded items.

“Everything was ruined,” She explained. “I filed a claim with the airline, Interjet, but they offered me just $45 for dry cleaning. I also filed a claim with RoamRight and they denied the claim because I didn’t save the luggage nor the items. But who was going to pay for possible medical bills or decontaminating my house if we got ill?”

The value placed on her complaint to our advocacy team? $16,000. I was sure that this was a typo and pointed it out to Leibrock.

She quickly responded that it was not a typo. Her estimated value of the items that she had tossed in the garbage can was $16,000. She assured me that she had taken pictures of the damages and that she had receipts for the items.

An amended luggage reimbursement request

Once she gathered all her receipts and sent them to me, she amended her compensation expectations to “around $8,000.”

There are multiple problems with Leibrock’s claim that are important for travelers to understand.

The most glaring problem, of course, is that there are clear liability limits as to what an airline will reimburse a passenger for if their bags are lost or damaged. Because Leibrock was traveling from Mexico, the Montreal Convention rules apply. Under this regulation, the maximum amount that a traveler can expect for reimbursement of luggage is around $1,600 — if it is determined that the luggage has been lost or damaged.

Tossing the evidence in the garbage can

But if you are claiming damage to your luggage and the items inside your luggage, you must provide proof to the airline. By throwing away all of her items, she had also thrown away her proof. This resulted in Interjet, for the most part, rejecting her claim.

This traveler threw out all her belongings after a recent flight and then filed a $16,000 luggage reimbursement requestAlthough this part of the story was strange, I have encountered other consumers who have thrown away critical evidence to their cases. In fact, one recent hotel guest believed bedbugs had infested his belongings during his stay. His response?  He told me that he immediately threw $3,000 worth of belongings in a trash can along the road.

To be clear, it is never wise to toss away high-valued evidence.

Proof of damage?

But back to Leibrock’s case. I thought the photos that she had taken might support her claim for some type of reimbursement for her lost items — albeit drastically smaller than she was expecting.

However, Leibrock’s photographic “evidence” quickly squashed that thought. (You can view her photos above the title of this story)

I wasn’t even sure what I was looking at in some of the photographs.

I explained to Leibrock that these photos were not going to help her case. In fact, I thought that they hurt her case. These photos are dark, blurry and they show her luggage inside what appears to be her closet. Her evidence contradicts the claim that she threw the items away so that they would not contaminate her home.

At this point, I was a bit perplexed by Leibrock and suggested that she post her case to our forums — which she did.

What did RoamRight say about this luggage reimbursement request?

I decided to contact RoamRight and find out why the company had denied her claim in its totality. I thought this information could be helpful for other travelers as well as for Leibrock.

No one at RoamRight would speak to me concerning Leibrock. I received an email from one executive that simply said, “no comment.” Since Leibrock had permitted the company to talk with me, this response was surprising. Typically, most companies are eager to clarify their position for us.

Eventually, I heard back from one executive. He assured me that Leibrock’s claim had been thoroughly investigated. He also said that, despite what Leibrock had told me, she knew why RoamRight had rejected her claim.

What went wrong?

Since neither Leibrock or RoamRight will clarify for us, I can only surmise what went wrong here.

First, Leibrock placed an unreasonably high value on this luggage reimbursement request. RoamRight places a maximum limit on her trip insurance policy of $2,500 per person (not per bag). The $16,000 figure most likely set off alarm bells with the insurance company and caused it to closely analyze the claim. And unfortunately for Leibrock, she had no proof of damage. Providing receipts is not sufficient to prove damages. And the pictures do not show the damages that she is claiming.

When you discover that an airline has damaged your belongings, you should not leave the airport until you make a claim. In this case, Leibrock should have snapped her photos inside the well-lit airport and left the luggage in the claims department if she was concerned about contamination.

If she arrived home and discovered the damage, it was imperative to photograph the luggage in good light; making sure that the damage was visible in the photos before discarding the articles. Each damaged high-ticket item also needed to be photographed.

Finally, if you are indeed traveling with $16,000 worth of belongings, these articles should be itemized with your homeowner’s insurance under a “valuable items” policy. You may have some protection there, but again proof of loss or damage is needed.

The final word

We can’t help Leibrock because she made too many missteps in her efforts to obtain reimbursement for her damaged belongings. Her initial, incredibly high request probably tainted her claim from the start. And the pictures that she provided did not properly document any damage. I can’t say for sure what happened here, but it is a study of what not to do if you find your luggage is damaged by airline “goo.”

Should Leibrock have received any reimbursement for her damaged luggage?

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24 thoughts on “Here’s why a $16,000 luggage reimbursement claim will always fall flat

  1. Reading between the lines (and given the insurance company’s response), it looks like Leibrock tried to turn a (potential) claim for a new suitcase into a lottery ticket. Even if we assume that the suitcase and contents really were ruined (a bit assumption), then knowingly making an insurance claim that’s more than they’re worth is simply fraud.

  2. She lost me when she said it was potentially toxic and she was worried about it contaminating her house. That’s a little overkill.

  3. I could totally believe that some sort of nasty axle-grease type substance got smeared on her bags… maybe they got rubbed against the wrong part of the conveyor system, whatever (though that would not have affected the contents.) I could also believe a passenger transporting something that leaked all over her bags. (For a leak, my money’s on somebody bringing home a big bottle of Agave syrup.)

    But yes, taking a few blurry photos once you get home, throwing everything in the trash, and then claiming way more money than you are ever going to get back because of liability limits was not going to work. (And overestimating the value of the items by 100% was not helpful.)

    I imagine that, at a minimum, they would have required turning the items over to them so they could be attempted to be cleaned (or at least evaluated for being hopeless.) Even at the Montreal amounts, that’s totally worth the effort for the airline to try.

  4. Especially when she submitted pictures of the bags piled in her closet which we could presume was inside her house.

  5. Adding to this, there is also the possibility that Leibrock in her communications with RoamRight used the threat of legal action. Elliott has previously posted about the dangers of making that claim, but that could also explain the silence from RoamRight.

  6. It was likely some kind of grease from the baggage belt. I could see if she was asking for a couple of hundred bucks ($500 or less) if the items were damaged but “toxic substances”…yeah, no. Unless you’re going to eat it, just no.

  7. That’s not a bad explanation for why the insurance co won’t talk to the advocacy team…

  8. Seven years ago I had luggage that was ruined on a flight to SFO. I noticed the problem (as did everyone within smelling range of my suitcase) as soon as it appeared on the luggage belt. It was soaking wet and reeked of dead fish. My luggage and I hastily visited the baggage services office for my airline where staff quickly whipped out air freshener while calling for someone to come and get that bag immediately. One hour later I walked out with a better suitcase than I had (a Target special and ended up with Samsonite) and the few clothes that had survived the fish. I had written instructions on replacing the ruined clothes based on the brands that had been ruined. (no designer wear for me.) None of this would have happened if I had not immediately gone to luggage services for the airline involved. While the oily substance probably did not have the same odor as my ruined suitcase, she should have noticed it while pulling it off the baggage claim belt or loading it into a vehicle and headed straight for the baggage office. This case, while not reeking of dead fish, certainly reeks of fraud.

  9. Yes, bringing in the damaged suitcase with evident fresh scars on it would have clinched a claim for at least the Montreal convention amount. Nothing like $16K, though.

    Avoid flying with expensive luggage in any case. The probability of it getting damaged is a lot less than the probability of it getting stolen by the ramp rats.

  10. I doubt the airline staff forgot about my situation quickly. They had missed my case in the planes hold and through it on with leaking cargo. It was memorable…

  11. I’m glad they belived you and did not say your story was a little fishy….. and you are cod-ing them. Sorry sure you have haddock-nough of these jokes

  12. This case got me thinking about limits on compensation.

    Are there any changes, concerns one would have to make if say you were traveling from one of the countries to another that bans electronics as carryon? You could potentially have a few thousand of dollars of electronics alone in your bag, along with other items. Business travel may require use, while vacation may require electronics also.

  13. It would be the traveler’s responsibility to be aware of each Country’s policy. Why would the airline be responsible for this?

  14. A classic case of what not to do. Plus, her shenanigans just make it more difficult for genuine claims to be taken seriously. Does the term “fraud” come to mind?

  15. I believe the airlines have reiterated their policy of not being responsible for valuables (including electronics) in checked baggage, regardless of government decrees.

  16. Just a guess – but, the entire thing may have been a scam on her part given the insurance company response to you saying that she knew why her claim was rejected and they wouldn’t speak to you.

    How on earth would anyone make out anything relevant in that photo “evidence” or believe any of this given she first claimed a $16,000 loss then halved it? I don’t believe a word of it. Does that make me a bad person? Maybe….

  17. Perhaps BubbaJoe123 was just trying to use a “polite” term. :-) But, I totally agree with your term.

  18. Sounds like this OP should be on stage during amateur comedy night. The phrase ‘get real’ came to mind, although she may have experienced some ‘illness’ when she touched her bags

  19. Unfortunately, it’s people like this who make it harder for those who have a legitimate claim. Also why so many companies slow play restitution.

  20. Exactly! Why didn’t she take this up at the airport before leaving? She also hurt herself with those pictures. I see no damage and I see it in her closet so how toxic could it have been?

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