A big vacation is an exciting chance to make memories. Getting sick or hurt while abroad is never part of the itinerary. Many travelers purchase travel insurance to protect their financial investment in case there’s a problem with their trip. But does travel insurance cover personal injury?
When most people buy travel insurance, they’re thinking about recouping their money if the trip gets canceled or interrupted for some reason. Policies typically allow for refunds when someone can’t go on their vacation for a reason that’s out of their control.
Many people also assume that their policy will cover a personal injury while they’re on their trip. There is actually a good chance that they will not be covered. Not only can a traveler lose the money they spent on the trip, but they may also be saddled with enormous medical bills. In the unfortunate event that something bad happens far away from home, it’s best to know the facts about travel insurance and personal injury cases.
The Purpose of Travel Insurance
Travel insurance is a great way to safeguard your finances when you plan a big trip. It covers a lot of scenarios that cause a vacation to be cut short or canceled. Every policy is different, but there are certain reasons for canceling that will get someone a full or partial refund.
If the traveler or a close relative gets sick or sustains an injury before the insured is scheduled to leave, they are typically reimbursed. The same goes for mandatory evacuations because of weather, natural disasters, or terrorism at the planned destination. The military deployment of the traveler is often covered, too.
Some lesser-known things that qualify for a travel insurance claim are the loss of a job or a work transfer. Having a home damaged, vandalized, or burglarized is often covered too, as is the theft of a passport or visa.
Other covered events that come as a surprise to most people include jury duty or court appearances, legal separation or divorce, and the extension of a student’s school year.
It’s important to note that policyholders will need to provide proof to the insurance company that one of these is the case. For example, a doctor would have to sign a form verifying that the travel would be detrimental to the patient’s health. For an additional fee, a traveler can purchase “cancel for any reason” coverage. This allows them to back out of a trip without having to justify the reason and still collect some or all of their prepaid expenses.
Travel Insurance Exclusions
Travel insurance covers a lot of reasons why a person might need to cancel a trip, as well as situations that can happen once you’re there. It’s also important to know what is not covered. Every policy has some standard exclusions—things that automatically disqualify a policyholder from collecting any compensation for the money they’ve lost. This becomes crucial information when seeking to be compensated for personal injury.
Some of the most common exclusions include:
- Pre-Existing Conditions. If a traveler has a medical condition that has been diagnosed or treated within the insurance company’s “lookback” period (usually 60, 90, or 180 days), the company will deny claims based on that condition.
- Childbirth. If a pregnant woman gives birth to her child overseas, chances are she is typically not covered for the costs associated with the birth.
- Medical Tourism. Having medical procedures, especially plastic surgery, performed abroad has become popular. It can sometimes put people at risk of complications and malpractice but is not covered by travel insurance.
- High-Risk Activities. Most travel insurance will not cover injuries suffered while taking part in certain adventure sports. Skydiving, bungee jumping, white-water rafting, scuba diving, and the like may need a supplementary policy to be covered.
- Intentional Self-harm. Self-inflicted bodily harm or attempted suicide is excluded.
- Intoxication. Injuries sustained while legally drunk or under the influence of drugs are excluded from coverage.
- Illegal Activity. If a traveler is injured while committing a criminal act, they will not be covered.
In some cases, additional policy protections can be purchased at an additional cost. Special add-ons for high-risk sports, pre-existing conditions, and medical tourism might be available. If there is a chance that any of these may apply, travelers should ask about adding coverage.
Medical Emergencies on Vacation
When traveling in the United States, a patient’s existing medical insurance will work just like when they are home. Traveling abroad is another story. Many insurance policies do not cover events that happen outside of the country, and Medicare never covers them.
When planning a trip, it’s a good idea to investigate what your insurance policy does and does not cover in the country or countries where you will be. Often the best option is to purchase travel insurance. Medical expense coverage is offered by most travel insurance companies, but it may cost extra.
Many tour and cruise companies provide options for coverage while you are traveling with their companies. If, for example, you slip and fall on a cruise ship, there may be coverage. If, however, you are hit by a car while visiting one of the port cities, you may not. It is essential to read any policy carefully to make sure you know your rights if you get hurt or become sick.
Some policies from home might cover medical expenses while abroad, but very rarely will they include emergency evacuation if it becomes necessary. The cost of airlift or a medically equipped flight home or to another location will be the traveler’s responsibility. A travel insurance add-on for such a circumstance might help defray the cost.
Filing a Personal Injury Claim
Most travel insurance companies will deny the initial claim if there is even the slightest chance that the incident crosses the line into one of their exclusions. If you do suffer an injury or illness while out of the country, there are some things you can do to help when filing a personal injury claim.
First, be sure you understand exactly what your policy does and does not cover. Next, most companies provide a 24-hour emergency number to contact. This may be a direct number to the insurance company, or if you’ve booked your trip through a travel agent, they may handle this for you. Contact the emergency assistance department as soon as you can to let them know what’s happening. If you’ve kept them informed of the situation, it will help when you file your claim.
Get immediate help for urgent care, but make sure any medical treatment is absolutely necessary before agreeing to it overseas. Say you have a dizzy spell that passes within a few minutes. An insurance company may object to paying for a hospital visit and a battery of tests unless there is an indication that a serious medical condition was present.
Keep detailed records of any police reports, doctors’ notes, and bills for treatment, prescriptions, ambulance trips, hospital visits, and anything else that was related to the incident. As with any insurance claim, you will need to prove a) that the incident happened as described, and b) that it cost what you are claiming.
Finally, do not accept any money from a third party in regard to the incident. For example, if you hurt yourself at a restaurant, the owner might want to offer you some money in an attempt to make amends. Accepting such payment will invalidate any claim you make to the travel insurance company.
When to Contact an Attorney
Many travel insurance policies have a lot of fine print and details to comb through, but they’re usually straightforward enough to review without an attorney’s help. There are, however, some instances where it makes sense to contact a lawyer.
An attorney can help if you feel you have a valid claim to compensation that is being denied by the insurance company. They can review the policy and your claim to see if it falls into one of the exclusionary categories, or if you have a chance for a refund.
If you have suffered an injury abroad due to negligence, you may have a legitimate personal injury case, even if the event is not covered by your travel insurance. An attorney can review the situation to see if it makes sense to seek damages from the foreign entity at fault.
International Personal Injury Cases
Filing a personal injury lawsuit for an incident that happened in another country can be tricky. Foreign courts have their own way of handling cases of liability, how to prove personal injury, and the amount of compensation that can be paid.
Instead of trying to bring suit in a foreign country, it is best to contact an attorney once you return home. The attorney will investigate whether your personal injury claim has a better chance in your local jurisdiction or in the place where the injury occurred. Foreign companies will usually object when cases are pursued in the United States, due to the inconvenience it will cause them. They will almost always ask for a dismissal. In some cases, for example, if there is an obvious case of negligence, a judge may decide that the suit should move forward anyway.
When travel overseas is with an American company, such as a tour group or cruise line, travelers have a better chance of taking the company to court no matter where the injury happened. Again, though, it may come down to the fine print. Many such trips require legal documents to be signed that specifically waive travelers’ rights to sue.
Even if your travel insurance does not cover personal injuries and illnesses, you may still be due some compensation for medical bills. A personal injury attorney can help you navigate the legal system that governs foreign travel, travel insurance, and how it applies to personal injury cases.