Help! I Fell in Sicily and my Travel Insurance Ditched Me

Dear Tripped Up,

I’m a 68-year-old solo traveler who was on a tour of Sicily in June 2022, when I fell getting off a bus, breaking multiple ribs, vertebrae and a pelvic bone. I had purchased the RoundTrip Choice plan from Seven Corners Travel Insurance, so I called, expecting they would help coordinate my medical care with Italian-speaking doctors. But they told me to seek help on my own, save the receipts and file a claim when I got home. Our tour guide was an angel, arranging drivers to take me back and forth to the hospital and even interpreting by speakerphone with doctors. Days later I got a doctor to fill out a form (which I had to Google Translate for him) saying I could travel home, as long as I was in a reclining position. My family chipped in to buy a business-class seat for the return flight, a day-and-night trip from Palermo to Munich to New York to Jacksonville. Seven Corners finally paid $5,772 for my bills and missed trip, but refused to reimburse me for most of my business-class fare. Far worse, I believe they failed to provide me the assistance they promised, essentially leaving me to fend for myself and leaving me unable to communicate with hospital staff. I have registered complaints with the Better Business Bureau and the state insurance agencies of Florida and Indiana (where Seven Corners is based), but I’ve gotten nowhere. Can you help? Helaine, St. Augustine, Fla.

Dear Helaine,

What a terrifying ordeal. And also a valuable reminder to solo travelers that although seeing the world on your own might be exhilarating, it can also be perilous. Fall ill or get hurt in a place where you don’t speak the language (or don’t understand the health care system) and who will be there to help you?

Seven Corners says it will, according to its website, boasting of “a 24/7 multilingual team available to help with travel emergencies,” including help finding medical care and second opinions as well as “interpreter referrals” and medical evacuations. The website recounts the reassuring story of Makenzie, a 22-year-old who fell ill near the French-Belgian border. Seven Corners staff are portrayed as springing into action, speaking to her doctors, arranging for a family member to fly in, and eventually booking Makenzie “a lay-down seat to ensure maximum comfort” on her return to California.

You obviously did not get the Makenzie treatment.

To find out why, I combed through your policy and the other documents you sent me, speaking at length and exchanging emails with Greg Jung, Seven Corners’ executive vice president, and even asking a Times colleague, Ilaria Parogni, to translate that form your Sicilian physician filled out from Italian doctor-scribble to standard English.

I was stymied somewhat by Seven Corners’ refusal to provide the documentation that I requested about your case. But even without that information (the Tripped Up column lacks subpoena power in the state of Indiana), my digging shows that while Seven Corners could have done a better job supporting you, you misunderstood their services and policy requirements.

To begin, your policy, which you say cost about $300 and was underwritten by the United States Fire Insurance Company, included, among other things, coverage for trip interruption and emergency medical costs. It also covered “medical evacuation” if adequate health care wasn’t available where you were (apparently, it was) and “medical repatriation,” which is the cost of getting home, including an upgrade from coach if a doctor considered it necessary. Seven Corners also provides a phone line for “urgent medical assistance” and has registered nurses to help coordinate care.

Exactly where the fault lies depends on exactly what you were told in your repeated phone calls to Seven Corners from Italy in the days after the accident. There is apparently no record of these calls. In your distress, you didn’t think to record them, and Mr. Jung said Seven Corners erases phone recordings after one year — even, apparently, when the customer has lodged multiple litigious-sounding complaints, as you had — and he would not provide the original case notes even after you agreed to sign a waiver.

He did summarize those notes for me, saying you were given clear instructions that you did not follow. He also said that you received the maximum amount allowed under your trip-interruption policy (150 percent of the cost of your trip) plus medical costs.

However, you were particularly nettled by their failure to reimburse you for the business-class seat. Mr. Jung said that to trigger the potential “medical repatriation” benefits, you needed to submit the documents for pre-approval for this benefit before you traveled home. (You say they told you to submit documents after you got home.) Moreover, he said, a Seven Corners team member gave you a phone number for the Italian doctors to call for assistance. (You deny that.)

He also said you sent an email to Seven Corners soon after your accident that made it seem like the situation was under control, which he found “hard to reconcile” with your subsequent complaints. In the email, he said, you wrote that you had a “caregiver/interpreter” with you in the hospital and asked whether you should make arrangements to get home or whether Seven Corners would.

Frustratingly, he would not provide the email, which you do not remember sending. You vehemently denied you had an interpreter with you, showing me a call log of the countless phone calls between you and your tour guide when you needed her to interpret.

One thing is apparent: The policy documents you signed before your trip clearly state that any medical evacuation or repatriation coverage must be preapproved, as Mr. Jung said, and yours was not. So there’s no dispute there — the dispute lies in whether Seven Corners provided the kind of hands on assistance the Makenzie anecdote seems to promise.

You argue the two are intertwined — Seven Corners’ medical assistance staff should have guided you through the process when you were alone and in pain, helping you get pre-approval for the business-class seat, if necessary.

The language barrier was probably the number one issue. Case in point: You mentioned in your complaint that your Italian doctor had, in writing, recommended a fully reclining seat. Thanks to my colleague’s translation services, we know the doctor actually wrote that your ribs had healed and that you could “travel by plane with assistance around the airport (wheelchair).” (Note to others: Apps like Jeenie provide pay-by-the-minute interpreter services to individuals by phone.)

I know you will not be using Seven Corners again. But I asked Mr. Jung to clarify the correct process other customers should undertake to access the medical services promised by the company.

He told me that the first step is for policy holders to travel with the company’s insurance card readily available (physically or electronically) and to call Seven Corners (or have the hospital call) as soon as possible. A representative would then take your information and send forms for you to fill out and send back as soon as possible, with any relevant medical records.

“Once all that information is received,” he wrote, “customer service engages our Assist team 24/7 and one of them would reach out to a customer within 30 minutes.” If Seven Corners determines the insured’s situation is covered, “the Assist team would arrange/monitor all medical care throughout the case and arrange any transportation needed during/after.”

So we’re back to whether you knew you needed to submit those forms right away to trigger the services you so desperately sought.

Shortly before publication, you called me back to say you had resolved and settled the issue with Seven Corners, but could not provide details. Seven Corners did not respond to questions about the settlement.

If you need advice about a best-laid travel plan that went awry, send an email to [email protected].

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