Can You File a Personal Injury Claim Abroad? What To Do If You’re Injured on Vacation

Vacationing abroad can be a wonderful experience, until you get hurt. Here’s what you need to know about dealing with personal 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 what to do if injured in a foreign country, getting medical care, how to get compensation if injured abroad, and how to prepare before leaving.

First Steps After Getting Injured Abroad

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 (more on this in the next section).

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 an incident report. Make arrangements to get a copy of the report after it’s 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

Find an injury attorney with a background in handling personal injury claims abroad. They will be a tremendous asset in helping you get the compensation you deserve. Most reputable injury attorneys offer a free initial consultation.

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’ll be visiting and what treatment options are 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 medical care information 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.

Pursuing 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.

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, 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 of liability 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.

Get Proper Insurance Before 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 different types of insurance coverage you can get before your trip.

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.

Medicare and Medicaid

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 a Medigap plan or supplemental travel insurance for your trip.

Auto Insurance

Just like private health insurance, your automobile insurance may not apply to a car 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
Bobby Jenkins, Esq. is an experienced civil litigator with over 20 years’ experience representing plaintiffs in personal injury cases. He is a member of the North Carolina State Bar and admitted to the U.S. District Court. Bobby has practiced extensively in the areas of auto accidents, medical malpractice, and wrongful death. He also teaches as... Read More >>