Wrongful Death Abroad

What recourse do you have if a loved one dies due to negligence in a foreign country?

Written on behalf of Aitken Aitken Cohn

Summer is vacation season! Whether you tour a fabulous faraway city, sunbathe on the beach in a tropical paradise, embark on an outdoor adventure, or visit your hometown to gather with family, whether you go alone for a little R&R, party with friends, take the kids on a memory-making trip, or have a romantic weekend away with your partner—you plan for a wonderful, rejuvenating experience.

Unfortunately, sometimes things don’t go as planned. Accidents can happen on even the dreamiest vacations. In some cases, they’re unavoidable. But as travelers, we rely on the businesses we patronize—accommodations, transport, activities, entertainment—to exercise a reasonable duty of care in ensuring their guests’ essential health and safety.

Sadly, this summer, an Orange County family is mourning the loss of a vibrant young couple whose vacation turned tragic—leaving many questions unanswered.

On June 13th, the bodies of Abby Lutz (28) and John Heathco (41) of Newport Beach, CA, were found in their room at Rancho Pescadero, a high-end resort, part of the Hyatt Hotel Corporation’s Unbound Collection, in Baja California, approximately 40 miles north of Cabo San Lucas.

Paramedics received a report that the American vacationers had been found unresponsive in their room by hotel staff. But when paramedics arrived, the couple was dead, apparently for 10-11 hours before being discovered.

Lutz’s family, who had been texting with her while she was away, said that she told them she’d been ill days earlier. The couple had been treated for symptoms of dehydration after what they believed was food poisoning. Feeling better, they’d returned to their room at the resort, where they died the next day.

Prosecutors in the case say there was no sign of violence. Initial autopsies indicated “intoxication by an undetermined substance.” Local police, too, said gas inhalation was
suspected, and CBS News reported, “The Baja California attorney general’s office said the two died from inhaling some sort of toxic substance, possibly carbon monoxide.” First responders began feeling sick and dizzy when they arrived on the scene. They left the room quickly and sought treatment at a local hospital.

Henar Gil, general manager of the Rancho Pescadero, initially told CBS News, “We can confirm there was no evidence of violence related to this situation, and we are not aware of any threat to guests’ safety or wellbeing.”

However, within a few days of the couple’s Death, current and former employees of Rancho Pescadero raised concerns about the hotel’s safety, alleging that the management had ignored warning signs.

A former night manager, Ricardo Carbajal, told the Los Angeles Times, “They knew there were problems with a gas leak.” Carbajal, who stopped working at the resort this spring, claims that carbon monoxide detectors were going off frequently over three months last year. Hotel management disabled the alarms due to noise complaints, he said.

On June 23rd, the LA Times reported that the luxury hotel had closed temporarily. In a statement, the hotel said that the Hyatt “together with the hotel’s owners … is conducting an extensive, independent investigation of the incident led by a third party.” When a serious injury or Death occurs while traveling abroad, and there are questions
about negligence and liability, it is a complex area of the law with many factors to consider.\

Understanding Foreign Country Wrongful Death Lawsuits

While many foreign countries have provisions for injured parties to recover compensation, the laws and legal systems vary between countries. Working with a wrongful death attorney knowledgeable about the legal protections and processes in the country where the incident occurred is essential.

In the unthinkable event that a loved one is killed due to someone else’s negligence during overseas travel, you may be able to pursue a wrongful death suit. Typically, when an American company operates in a foreign country, it is subject to its laws and regulations. Therefore, if the company’s negligence harms individuals, those affected may have the right to seek legal recourse in the host country’s courts. However, depending on the company’s ties to the United States, you may be able to file your case in an American court—for example, when a death occurs on foreign soil due to the negligence of a U.S.-based business such as a tour operator or hotel.

Determining jurisdiction is challenging, complex, and critical to your case. You will want to consult a wrongful death attorney familiar with the host country’s laws and applicable
international agreements.

The veteran torts attorneys at Aitken * Aitken * Cohn are skilled in handling even the most complicated wrongful death suits, including international cases. A Riverside wrongful death attorney understands how devastating and overwhelming it is to lose a loved one due to someone else’s negligence during overseas travel. We can help you understand your rights and pursue the compensation you deserve.