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May 2023    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Vol. 49, No. 5   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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A Unique and Serious Injury at Ramon's in Belize

a tough fight for compensation in another country

from the May, 2023 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

When one heads out on a dive trip, one expects to dive carefully and come home safe and sound. One doesn't expect that your dive boat will be so inadequately maintained as to cause a severe injury.

We received a letter from Undercurrent subscriber Lorraine Elowe (Colorado) discussing the heartbreaking injury she received while heading out to dive with Ramon's Village Resort in Belize. We have discussed her experience with her attorney and other attorneys as well to offer an insight into the complexities of obtaining any reasonable insurance settlement abroad.


On January 12, 2020, I was on diving with Ramon's Resort in Belize, headed for a dive at Turneffe Atoll aboard the MV Lady Grace. We chose Ramon's for my 60th birthday celebration based on their 5-star rating with PADI. We felt we were in good hands.

When a wave hit the boat, one of the three windshields exploded, breaking into shards that flew into the cabin, injuring five passengers. Glass deeply lacerated my quadricep. Others were cut on their faces, hands, and feet. We were covered in blood.

The staff responded quickly. We returned to Ramon's and were transported to the Belize City Hospital. The others were treated and released, but I needed surgery to repair the injury. It was a nightmare end to our holiday in Belize and an agonizing trip home to Colorado.

After the accident, I was immediately contacted by Ramon's. The windshield that exploded was regular glass, non-tempered, non-marine, non-safety glass, an improper replacement windshield. They were inspecting their fleet to ensure that the appropriate glass was installed so this could never happen to another customer. There was no question of liability. I was also informed that Ramon's held a policy of one million U.S. dollars.

I was an avid runner, skier, hiker, and triathlete. After months of physical therapy, I regained much of my mobility, though I was left with a massive scar on my leg. However, I can no longer run. I cannot ski. I cannot compete in triathlons. I will need a knee replacement due to the patella misalignment from the injury. I have needed therapy to deal not only with the accident trauma but also with the need to accept my physical limitations.

Ramon's staff was wonderful, as was the dive boat crew. But my dealings with Ramon's insurance company remind me of a John Grisham novel exposing insurance companies that deny, deny, deny and hope you will go away. My attorney and I didn't go away but had little satisfaction.

First, we were informed that Ramon's policy has limited "jurisdiction," which meant that if I was unsatisfied with their offer, I could only seek legal remedy in a Belize court.

Second, the insurance attorneys put me in an endless loop by requesting doctors' letters detailing the trauma and injury, estimates for knee replacement, and more, only to disregard the information from the U.S. physicians and therapists and offer a small fraction of the actual damages based on "Belize damages."

Due to the "jurisdictional limitations of the insurance policy," I could either accept their offer or travel to Belize to litigate in their courts. My experience in dealing with their attorneys, and my overall traumatic experience in Belize, made this an option I chose not to take. I settled for an amount that did not begin to cover future medical expenses or the loss of self that I have experienced from no longer being able to enjoy and compete in athletic events. Not to mention the Frankensteinish scar I am left with for the rest of my life.

When deciding where to dive, an inherently dangerous sport in itself, we do not expect that a 5-Star PADI resort would improperly maintain their boats or shirk full responsibility for the damages caused by their admitted negligence. Ramon's had lax safety standards, hid behind their limited insurance policy, "third-world country" status, and antiquated British laws. The PADI 5-Star status is a joke.

Besides hiring an American attorney, I had to hire local Belize counsel at $400/hr. to assist in getting a "local" settlement executed and getting money out of Belize, at the cost of nearly US$12,000 once their "currency conversion" was finalized.

It was an awful experience - which added insult to the severe permanent injury I sustained on Ramon's dive vessel.

- Lorraine Elowe


We contacted Lorraine's attorney, Michele Nelson Bass, in Aspen, Colorado, who told Undercurrent, "We got it resolved, but it was a major hassle and headache and expensive.

"My Demand Letter to Ramon's liability insurance company outlined . . . . all damages incurred by my client and told them I would file suit in Federal Court in Colorado if it did not settle.

"I hired a local Belize attorney from the top firm in Belize to put pressure on Ramon's to settle - and to let them know we were prepared to go to trial in Belize based on the track record of my local counsel who had litigated many cases with that insurance company. His firm was the top trial law firm. We had conferences with claims people together - but I was directing the arguments and legal analysis.

"I also sent the owner of Ramon's, an American evangelist in Mississippi, a copy of the Demand Letter and urged him to do the right thing and put pressure on its insurance company to compensate my client for their gross negligence. He never responded. He turned a blind eye to the issue and let the local Belize insurance company have total settlement control."

Getting money from an insurance company for a diving accident abroad is very tough, but Michelle Bass prevailed. Rick Lesser, an attorney with vast experience in diving negligence cases, told Undercurrent, "I read about Lorraine's injury and . . . . having been involved in updates and documents from Michele, I can confirm she got a much better result than anyone anticipated."

Bass told Undercurrent that she wanted to emphasize that "Ramon's Resort . . . . creates complacency through its 'badge-of-honor' as a PADI 5-Star Resort. This 5-Star rating . . . . attempts to convey that PADI actually has oversight and control of the resort, which it definitely does not.

"The vast majority of their business is based on U.S. divers, and the fact that they treat them so poorly is a huge issue for U.S. divers to know about before they go. That is why it is so important for Undercurrent to discuss this reality and urge all divers to have their own insurance to get home and get medical care."

Next Issue: What this case and dive attorneys say about injured divers bringing lawsuits abroad.

-- John Bantin and Ben Davison

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