CO2 poisoning was the cause of three American deaths while vacationing at a resort in the Bahamas
Relax. Unwind. Soak up the sun.
That’s what tourists want when they leave home and head to an island destination for a vacation. No one expects that they won’t ever return.
But that’s exactly what happened to three American tourists in the spring of 2022.
On the morning of May 6, 2022, a staff member discovered an unresponsive guest in the guest’s villa. Staff later discovered another man and woman who were unresponsive in a different villa. All three were pronounced dead by a physician, and a fourth person was very ill and airlifted to a Florida hospital.
The investigation revealed that the cause of the deaths was carbon monoxide poisoning.
In August of the same year, a fourth American tourist died at the same Bahamas resort. This death was determined to be natural causes, as the individual had recently tested positive for COVID-19 and no other cause of death was found.
Is it safe to travel to the Bahamas?
Barring “normal” travel concerns like hurricanes, COVID-19 or other illnesses, the Bahamas are not less safe than other destinations.
But it is important to consider who is liable if something happens to you or a loved one while you’re on vacation. If a hotel’s or travel agency’s negligence caused your injury, you might be able to file a civil personal injury lawsuit. However, when you leave U.S. jurisdiction, it becomes more complicated.
Can I sue a foreign hotel in the U.S. court system?
It’s possible, but not always. If the hotel is owned by an American company or does significant business in the U.S., the U.S. courts likely have jurisdiction even if the property where you were injured is outside the country.
Sometimes a court will dismiss the case because it’s inconvenient to try a claim in the U.S. when the injury took place in another country, and the defendant and other relevant parties are located there. If that happens, you would need to file your lawsuit in the country where the injury happened, or wherever the defendant (hotel owner) is located. Some hotels and resorts require foreign guests to sign an agreement before their stay that they would only sue in the hotel’s home country.
If you’re considering suing a foreign defendant, you should consult a personal injury lawyer who can guide you through the jurisdictional issues and help you determine where to file the claim.
What would lead to a lawsuit against a hotel or resort?
You can file a lawsuit against a hotel or resort if its negligence caused injury during your stay.
What does that mean?
A hotel or resort has a duty to take reasonable measures to keep guests safe on the property. Reasonable measures include things like properly trained lifeguards in swimming areas, regular testing of fire alarms, following regulated health and safety protocols for food preparation, and similar. If a hotel is negligent, it did not meet the duty of care or reasonably avoid harm to its guests.
Here are some scenarios that illustrate the difference between negligence and an accident:
• A hotel guest is swimming in a pool guarded by a Red Cross-certified, trained lifeguard. The guest suffers a stroke while swimming. The guard sees that the guest is in distress and follows the correct procedures for that kind of emergency situation—she clears the pool and jumps in to pull the guest to safety. Unfortunately, the guest does not survive the incident.
The guest’s family would not likely be able to sue the hotel for negligence in this instance. The cause of death was the stroke, and the lifeguard took all reasonable measures to save him from drowning but could not have prevented his dying from a stroke. The stroke happened to be while he was in the hotel pool, but the result would likely have been the same anywhere.
• The hotel guest is swimming in a pool with a lifeguard present. The guard knows she isn’t supposed to have her phone with her while guarding, but her supervisor has seen the guards using their phones while guarding and has never commented. The lifeguard believes it’s a “written rule” that isn’t really enforced and is therefore not important. Her friends start a text chat about what their plans are for the evening, and the guard becomes interested in the text string, so she begins reading and responding to texts while she is on duty at the pool.
At some point, a child guest jumps into deep water and can’t swim well enough to get to safety. Although the parent was supervising the child, the parent was not a strong enough swimmer to get to the child fast enough before the child went underwater. The lifeguard was looking at her phone and didn’t see this situation happening. Other adults nearby tried to get the guard’s attention but she was engrossed in her text chat and didn’t notice. The child survived but suffered severe brain damage from being without oxygen for several minutes before another guest was able to rescue her and administer CPR.
In this instance, the parent could sue the hotel for negligence. They relied on there being a lifeguard at the pool and allowed their child to swim, believing that there were safety measures in place in case of an accident. The hotel would be at fault for the negligence of its employee because its staff was not enforcing rules and regulations and was implicitly allowing the guard to use her phone while on duty. If the guard had not been on the phone, she would have seen that the child was in distress and needed help, and the guard presumably would have been faster to act and save the child.
Other types of injuries caused by a hotel’s negligence
There have been lawsuits against a hotel or resort property for personal injuries that include foodborne illnesses, crimes or assaults as a result of negligent security, slip and fall or other premises liability issues, fires, or even sex trafficking.
In addition to it being the result of the property’s negligence, the injury must have cost you money in order for you to make a claim. That’s because the basis for personal injury law is to make a plaintiff (the injured person) whole, or to restore them to the financial position you’d be in if the accident had never happened.
For instance, what if you suffered food poisoning from undercooked meat? Certainly, the hotel restaurant staff would likely be negligent for serving meat that could cause an illness because of being cooked improperly. But if your illness consisted of 24 hours of stomach distress and you made a full recovery without requiring medical treatment, then you can’t bring a claim because it didn’t cost you money.
You can recover costs that include medical treatment, lost wages, pain and suffering, property loss, and other expenses related to the injury.
Is the Bahamas resort responsible for the three American tourists’ deaths?
Based on published reports, it seems that the resort could be responsible for the tourists’ deaths. Autopsy and toxicology findings indicated that they died from carbon monoxide poisoning. Sandals said that the guests were staying in a “standalone structure that housed two individual guest rooms and was in no way linked to the resort’s air conditioning system, food and beverage service, landscaping services or foul play.”
However, the resort said that following the deaths, it intended to install carbon monoxide in every guest room.
News reports haven’t indicated how the carbon monoxide entered the villa where the guests died or whether it was a result of the resort’s not taking adequate measures to protect against illness.
What should you do if you suffered an illness or injury at a hotel or resort?
The first step would be to seek the guidance of a personal injury lawyer who can establish jurisdiction. This is important not only if the property is outside the U.S., but even if the property is in a different state from where you live. You might have to file a lawsuit in a state court where the business is registered.
Next, your attorney will obtain evidence through the discovery process and advise on whether you have a valid claim.
The legal process can be murky, particularly when dealing with large corporations or foreign businesses—but you deserve to be compensated for your losses if someone’s negligence caused your injury or illness.