“My wife got salmonella poisoning at a Mexican resort”

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By Christopher Elliott

Chris and Shelley Harper had hoped for a week of R&R with their two young children at the Riu Tequila, an all-inclusive resort in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. But instead, Shelley ended up in the emergency room with apparent food poisoning.

I won’t bury the lede, as they say in journalism. She made a full recovery. The Harper’s bank account, however, is $1,849 poorer. (Wow, those Mexican hospitals are not cheap.) Who is responsible for her hospitalization, and who should pay?

Those are excellent questions, to which the Harpers still don’t have an acceptable answer.

But let’s hear their story first. Chris Harper has the details. He says there’s no doubt about what happened. “My wife got salmonella poisoning at a Mexican resort,” he told me. He says the trouble started on the sixth day of their vacation.

Shelley awoke around 3am feeling ill and by 6am was actively vomiting. She was not able to eat or drink anything without becoming violently ill.

By noon, Shelley was very weak and dehydrated and was not showing any signs of improvement. We notified the front desk and the hotel doctor was contacted around 1pm. The doctor arrived shortly thereafter and upon examining Shelley, concluded that she was severely dehydrated and was potentially suffering from acute appendicitis. He insisted that she be admitted to the hospital for further evaluation.

The Harpers were nervous about the prospect of emergency surgery in a foreign hospital. They were not reassured when the Mexican hospital insisted they make a $1,000 deposit before being seen by a doctor.

Once we were able to contact our credit card company and authorize the transaction, she was admitted and blood tests were performed by the general surgeon, Dr. Rico. The diagnosis was determined to be salmonella poisoning with severe dehydration.

Shelley had to be admitted for an overnight stay to immediately begin re-hydration and a course of IV antibiotics. At the time of diagnosis, the surgeon indicated the salmonella exposure occurred between 24 and 72 hours prior to the onset of symptoms.

AirAdvisor is a claims management company. We fight for air passenger rights in cases of flight disruptions all over the world. Our mission is to ensure that air passengers are fairly compensated for the inconvenience and frustration caused by delays, cancellations, or overbooking.

Since this occurred on Friday and we arrived the previous Sunday – this indicates conclusively that she was infected during our stay at the Riu Tequila. During the entire stay, all the food and drinks we consumed were provided by the Riu Tequila.

The Harpers have asked their tour operator, Apple Vacations for a refund of two nights plus hospital expenses, which sounds pretty reasonable — if Shelley had suffered from food poisoning. But that’s an allegation that Riu disputes. I checked with the tour operator, and it says the tests were inconclusive. (Here’s what you need to know about travel food.)

Upon contacting RIU for information, we were informed that there were no other reports of illness reported in the days or weeks leading up to the Harpers stay, or after their departure. Additionally, the RIU stated they required a confirmed diagnosis of Salmonella (which Mrs. Harper’s medical documentation did not include), which if presented, the RIU would be more than happy to revisit the situation.

However, without any medical documentation with the specific diagnosis of Salmonella, and no other sick passengers, they respectfully declined to accept responsibility. Customer Care went back to RIU a second time on Mrs. Harper’s behalf, and still they declined to accept the documentation received as being a Salmonella diagnosis.

I revisited with Chris Harper. Here’s what he had to say.

I think the sticking point is the lack of the word “salmonella” on the hospital report.

All that the report has is the test that lists:

Algutinacion TIPHI A (H) Positivo a 1/80

When you Google this it says “Did you mean TYPHI?” Which is Salmonella Typhi.

Alright, folks. Can this trip be saved? Apple says if the Harpers had purchased their option travel insurance, they would have been covered, and none of this would be necessary. Still, they’ve already tried twice to advocate for their customer, both times unsuccessfully. (Who bears responsibility for a traveler contracting food poisoning?)

Did Shelley Harper suffer from food poisoning, or something else? Even if she did, is the Riu responsible? Could she have become sick by drinking the water, for example? And how can I help?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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