Injuries in Foreign Countries: Getting the Care and Compensation You Deserve

Vacationing abroad can be a wonderful experience, unless you’re injured. Here’s what you need to know about dealing with injury claims in foreign countries.

Everyone looks forward to vacation, especially the chance to travel abroad.

While no one expects to be injured away from home, there are things you need to know about avoiding vacation injuries and what to do if an injury happens.

We discuss common travel injuries, how to prepare before leaving, what to do if injured in a foreign country, and how to get compensation if injured abroad.

Common Causes of Travel Injuries

Traveling in foreign countries can put you at increased risk for certain types of injuries, particularly when traveling in developing countries. Being aware of common vacation injuries can help you stay safe while traveling.

Traffic Accidents

You’re vulnerable to traffic accidents in foreign countries for several reasons. The roads may not be well maintained, traffic laws may not be followed or enforced, and there may be a higher number of reckless drivers. You may not know local traffic laws or you may feel uncomfortable driving on the opposite side of the road. Differences in the way cars are designed can also be confusing.

Traffic accidents aren’t limited to cars. Taxis, tour buses, and even bicycles can put you at risk.

Crime

Crime exists all over the world. Being aware of your surroundings and understanding potential risks where you’re traveling can help keep you from becoming a victim. The United States Centers for Disease Control suggests the following strategies to help stay safe:

  • Travel at night only if necessary
  • Travel with a companion
  • Vary your travel routine and habits
  • Don’t wear expensive clothing or jewelry
  • Travel locally only on safe roads through safe areas
  • Avoid staying in a hotel room on the ground floor
  • Lock all your hotel room windows and doors

If you’re the unfortunate victim of a crime while vacationing abroad, immediately contact the nearest US Embassy or Consulate.

Helpful Programs and Information

The U.S. State Department’s free Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) provides safety, security, and health information from the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in the country you’re visiting. The STEP program also helps the local Embassy contact you in case of emergency.

The Overseas Security Advisory Council provides information about crime trends and patterns in countries around the world.

The State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs (BCA) assigns a travel advisory level to countries around the world. Those warnings range from Level 1 (exercise normal caution) to Level 4 (do not travel).

Water Activities

Many vacations involve water activities like boating, swimming, or scuba diving. As a result, drowning and other water-based injuries occur frequently on vacations. Many of these injuries result from the vacationer’s lack of experience with the activity or their unfamiliarity with local water conditions.

Be aware of your physical limitations and only deal with reputable instructors and tour operators when doing anything in or on the water.

Fires

Some countries fail to enforce building codes or lack them altogether. Additionally, hotels and other lodging establishments may not provide smoke alarms or proper evacuation information.

Fires are a higher risk when vacationing in developing countries or low-income areas. As a precaution, it’s a good idea to double-check evacuation routes where you’re staying.

Other Common Vacation Injuries

  • Allergic reactions
  • Food poisoning
  • Escalator and elevator injuries
  • Injuries from overcrowded conditions

Fatalities in Foreign Countries

In 2015 – 2016, 1700 U.S. citizens visiting foreign countries died from unnatural causes, including homicides. According to the Centers for Disease Control, Mexico, the Philippines, Jamaica, and Haiti had the highest number of homicides of U.S. citizens, with Mexico accounting for 50% of those deaths.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides detailed information on dealing with the death of a friend or loved one in a foreign country.

Getting Medical Care in a Foreign Country

Finding a Doctor or Hospital

Before leaving on your trip, take time to learn about the healthcare system in the country you will be visiting and what treatment options will be available.

Find lists of healthcare providers in foreign countries on these sites:

Hospitals in the United States must meet accreditation standards, and some foreign countries also have accredited hospitals and other healthcare facilities. The Joint Commission International website can help you identify accredited facilities.

Some countries such as Canada, Great Britain, South Africa, and Australia maintain or recommend websites that provide information related to medical care in their countries.

Telemedicine

Even if your health insurance doesn’t provide coverage outside the United States, you may have a telemedicine option available regardless of your location. Such an option would allow you to contact a healthcare provider based in the U.S. to discuss your situation.

Check with your health insurance company prior to leaving on vacation to determine if a telemedicine option is available. If it is, take the contact information with you.

Paying for Care

If you do obtain medical insurance that covers injuries abroad, it likely will not reimburse the foreign healthcare provider directly. You will instead have to pay out-of-pocket at the time you receive treatment, then get reimbursed by your insurance company after you return home. While this is not ideal, you may have no choice.

If you find yourself injured and need financial help, the U.S. State Department has information on how a friend or family member can send you money abroad if faced with a medical emergency.

Proper Insurance for Your Trip

Your private medical or auto insurance in the U.S. may not provide coverage if you’re injured in a foreign country. The only way to know for sure is to contact your insurance companies prior to your trip.

If your insurance doesn’t cover you during international travel, there are other options, such as travel medical insurance. Here we discuss the different types of insurance coverage.

Health Insurance

Before leaving for your trip, find out if your private health insurance will cover an injury abroad. Read your policy, call your insurance company, or meet with your employer’s human resources representative to figure this out.

If your insurance doesn’t cover injuries abroad or provides only limited coverage, consider purchasing a supplemental policy for your trip.

Note: In general, Medicaid and Medicare DO NOT provide coverage for injuries suffered abroad. If your primary medical coverage is through Medicaid or Medicare, consider purchasing supplemental travel insurance for your trip.

Auto Insurance

Just like private health insurance, your automobile insurance may not apply to an automobile accident in a foreign country.

Unless you went to the extraordinary expense of shipping your car abroad, you will be in a rental car. Don’t assume your auto insurance covers you in a rental car in a foreign country just because it covers you in the U.S. Check with your insurance company before you leave.

Some U.S. credit card benefits include rental car insurance coverage. Contact your preferred credit card support line to confirm if you can get this coverage.

Travel Insurance

Before leaving to visit a foreign country, consider purchasing international travel insurance, including travel insurance with medical evacuation coverage.

A serious injury in a foreign country may prevent you from returning home on a commercial airline or ship. Many travel insurance policies offer emergency medical evacuation coverage, which could be invaluable if needed.

When shopping for travel health insurance, ask if it includes:

  • Emergency medical care
  • Medical transport back to the United States
  • Travel and accommodation costs
  • A 24-hour contact number
  • Sufficient financial coverage
  • Coverage for the region(s) you travel in
  • Coverage for the duration of your travel
  • Pre-existing condition coverage
  • Coverage for the activities you plan on engaging in

First Steps After Getting Injured

In the unfortunate event you’re injured in a foreign country, there are steps you should take to protect your safety and improve your chances of getting fair compensation.

1. Get Medical Care

You may prefer to wait until you return home to see your regular doctor about your injury, but time can be critical to preventing your injury from getting worse. Use any available resources to locate a competent healthcare provider and seek essential treatment.

2. Take Photographs

If you or your traveling companion is able, take photographs of the scene. Document the location completely by taking photographs from several different angles. Also take pictures of your injuries at the scene and throughout your recovery.

3. Gather Other Information

Get the names of people involved and witnesses, license plate numbers, insurance information, and any other relevant information. It may be difficult and expensive to track down witnesses after you return to the United States, so get as much contact information as you can.

4. File an Accident Report

If your injury happens in a hotel, restaurant, on a cruise ship, or in some other business establishment, contact the manager and ask to file a report. Make arrangements to get a copy of the report after it is completed.

5. Call Your Insurance Provider

If you purchased travel insurance prior to leaving, get in touch with the company as soon as possible to report what happened. If you didn’t purchase travel insurance, your private health insurance may have limited coverage for vacation injuries. Call as soon as possible to find out your coverage and treatment options.

6. Contact an Experienced Personal Injury Attorney

An experienced personal injury attorney with a background in handling claims in foreign countries can be a tremendous asset in helping you get the compensation you deserve. Most reputable injury attorneys offer a free initial consultation.

Getting Compensation for Injuries Abroad

You may face some hurdles trying to recover compensation for an injury in a foreign country.

It can be both difficult and expensive to investigate such an injury and it may be hard to identify foreign witnesses. Police accident reports in other countries may not be as complete or meet the standards expected of law enforcement in the United States.

Filing a Lawsuit in a Foreign Country

Can you sue a foreign citizen or business if you’re injured on vacation? The most accurate answer to that question is… it depends. The ability to bring a claim for an injury suffered in another country is determined by that country’s laws and legal system.

Many foreign countries’ legal systems are very different from the United States. They may not recognize the same types of claims and may have monetary limits on the amount of recovery. If you face this situation, call an experienced personal injury attorney for advice.

Filing a Lawsuit in the United States for an Injury in a Foreign Country

Again, the best answer is that it depends, but you may face some problems suing a foreign citizen or foreign business in the United States.

A legal concept known as “forum non-conveniens” allows foreign citizens or businesses to challenge some claims brought against them in the United States by arguing that it’s not convenient for them to be sued in the United States.

If the foreign citizen or business successfully makes that argument, then you have no choice but to file a lawsuit in their country.

Personal Jurisdiction

Another issue is whether an American court would have personal jurisdiction over the person or business. Questions about personal jurisdiction can be complicated.

At its most basic, a U.S. court will have personal jurisdiction over a foreign citizen or business if that citizen or business lives or does business in your state, has minimum contacts with your state, or if the defendant took the unlikely step of agreeing to personal jurisdiction.

For example, a foreign-owned cruise line that advertises and promotes itself in the United States may have sufficient business contacts in this country to allow you to sue them in an American court.

Suing an American Business for an Injury in a Foreign Country

Just because you were injured in a foreign country doesn’t mean you were injured by a foreign corporation. Your injury may have been caused by a United States business working in that country.

Cruise ships, tour companies, and group vacation providers are often U.S. companies that simply work abroad. In that case, you should be able to sue the American business in the United States.

A Note on Liability Waivers

Many tour companies require you to sign some type of legal waiver before going on your trip. You may have no choice. If given an option not to sign the waiver, consider opting out. You may want to consult an attorney before making a decision.

What the waiver says can impact your ability to sue the tour company, even if it’s a U.S. company. For example, the waiver may require you to arbitrate your claim or may establish the state where your claim must be brought.

If you’re injured due to the negligence of a travel company, you will need to get a copy of the waiver and consult with an experienced personal injury attorney about what it means.

Always Check With an Attorney

Waivers and liability limitations don’t necessarily protect the company if you’re injured by that company’s negligence. The law doesn’t allow a company to make you sign a waiver and then fail to act reasonably or disregard your safety.

An experienced personal injury attorney can help you understand exactly what the legal implications are of any waiver you may have signed. Most reputable injury attorneys offer free initial consultations.

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