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Insurance Helpline | Negotiating a personal-injury claim from overseas

Published:Sunday | May 29, 2016 | 12:00 AM

QUESTION: I am writing you in the hope that you can advise me about a situation that occurred while I was in Jamaica as a visitor. I live in the Albuquerque, New Mexico in the United States. While there, I was a back-seat passenger in the vehicle of a friend. Unfortunately, the driver fell asleep, hit an object, and the car ended up in the sea. The accident occurred in January of this year. We were taken by ambulance to the Falmouth Hospital. My blood pressure was taken on arrival. It was very high. I told the staff that I was on medication for hypertension and I would take it as soon as I returned to my friend's house.

When I returned to the US a few days later, I had to seek emergency treatment. I was having severe pains. My condition was diagnosed as a whiplash injury and fractured ribs. I was given medication and advised to see my primary care physician when I got home. I took time off from work to rest. I have incurred expenses as a result of the accident. These include replacing my brand new cell phone, medical expenses and lost income. Trying to make contact with the insurance company in Jamaica is very problematic and expensive. I feel completely lost. Should I try to negotiate settlement directly with the insurer or should I use a personal injury attorney? I am not sure what future medical expenses I am likely to incur. Any advice that you can offer will be greatly appreciated.

- A.D.


INSURANCE HELPLINE: I am very sorry to learn that your stay in Jamaica was ruined - the untimely accident, the incredibly poor quality of treatment at the hospital and, finally, the runaround that you later received at the hands of the insurance company.

It is my sincere hope that your interactions with this column will help, in some small way, to relieve some of the negative things that you now associate with your visit to the island.

A few years ago, one of my nephews who was attending college in the US was involved in a motor vehicle accident. He was driving along an icy road. The car flipped. None of the passengers was seriously injured. However, when my nephew arrived in Jamaica a few days later, he received a number of phone calls from the insurers of the vehicle. They made enquiries to find out about his health status.

Their interest was driven purely by business considerations. They were not being nice for the sake of being nice. They wanted to know if a claim for personal injury was likely and, if so, to settle it as quickly as possible. I recall being very impressed by the company's proactive, businesslike approach. What would have been the situation had a similar thing occurred to one of the estimated 3.5 million stopover visitors who came here in 2014? Ten years later, I now have an answer.

Medical practitioners use the term soft-tissue injuries to describe what is commonly called 'whiplash injuries'. In an article I wrote in November 2013 - 'Soft-tissue Injuries Can Be More Than A Pain In The Neck' - I argued that it would be most unwise to try to enter into a compensation agreement with an insurance company as a layperson, when the injury could have long-term consequences and the costs associated with it are not known.

I have no reason to change that opinion.

Whiplash injuries, according to a Florida clinic I quoted at the time, are "characterised by an assortment of symptoms, including headache and neck pain, that occur following damage to the neck. Whiplash may include ligament damage and injury to intervertebral joints, discs and cervical (neck) muscles. In addition to neck pain and headache, whiplash symptoms include back pain, shoulder pain, joint pain, tingling, nausea, dizziness, and limited motion in the body".

It is extremely difficult for doctors to give accurate, long-term prognoses for those persons who have suffered these types of injuries.

The average time that was taken to settle whiplash claims in the United Kingdom, according to one study, was 19 months.

Do not try to negotiate settlement directly with the insurance company. Your next order of business should be to retain the services of a local attorney who specialises in personal injury claims.

Under normal circumstances, I would be very reluctant to make a recommendation. However, given the horrible experiences that you have had while in Jamaica, I will make an exception. I have provided the attorney with a brief about your case and will leave you to make contact directly with her.

"Delighted customers," according to Medallia Inc, "drive growth. They transact (business) more often, spend more, and promote you. Unhappy customers defect as soon as possible; worse, they bad-mouth you and drive away business."

Can the folks at the Jamaica Tourist Board exercise their creative minds to find innovative solutions to the problems you have experienced for the benefit of locals and visitors?

- Cedric E. Stephens provides independent information and advice about the management of risks and insurance. For free information or counsel, write to: