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Sunday, January 14, 1990 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Travel Agents May Be Sued For Malpractice

NEW YORK - Travel agents who stumble when planning a client's trip could find themselves the target of a malpractice suit.

That word comes from Gary K. Stone, an insurance expert who serves as a consultant to the American Society of Travel Agents.

``Everyone is aware of the problems faced by the medical profession with respect to malpractice. But all professionals, including travel agents, face a similar problem when providing services to the public. The problems occur when a real or alleged lack of care results in loss to a client,'' wrote Stone in a recent issue of Network, a trade magazine published by the International Airlines Travel Agent Network.

Advising the agents to look into proper liability insurance coverage, Stone warned that even though they ``are always careful in advising clients and providing needed services . . . the fact remains that all of us make errors, or at least errors as perceived by some of the courts.''

Stone, a vice president at American College in Bryn Mawr, Pa., gave these examples of cases that have resulted in suits against travel agents:

-- Failure to mention that a visa was required to enter one of the countries on an itinerary, resulting in delays and added cost for the client.

-- The computer indicated that a flight was available and the agent issued a ticket. Unfortunately, the computer was in error and the flight had been discontinued. A sizable business deal was ruined because the client could not reach the destination in time.

-- A client asked about a low-cost tour that he read about in a newspaper ad. The agent arranged the trip, even though the tour operator was not one with whom he normally conducted business. The trip was unsatisfactory, and the client sued for a refund, alleging negligence for failure to advise about the potential problems.

Stone points out in the November article that even if a travel agent is found not to be at fault, ``the legal fees resulting from the suit can be catastrophic.''

He said that he was told by a representative of the insurance brokers that it cost $300,000 just to prepare the defense for a travel agent in a suit concerning the terrorist incident aboard the cruise ship Achille Lauro. The agent was being sued for failure to warn the client that security was not good on the ship.

While some travelers have legitimate and legal beefs about the way their trips come out, there are others who just like to make noise, says William Tomicki, the outspoken editor and publisher of Entree, a monthly travel newsletter aimed at the upscale market.

Cruise lines recently have been hit with some ``petty carping,'' says Tomicki. He cited the following as examples:

-- When a winter storm wiped out the port facilities in Ensenada, Mexico, a small contingent of passengers aboard Admiral Cruises' Azure Seas threatened a class-action lawsuit because they missed an advertised port of call.

-- A Los Angeles woman and her companion demanded full reimbursement from the Royal Viking Sun because, among other complaints, she had told the line she was on a diet but waiters continued to offer her breads and desserts.

Tomicki's comment?

``Puh-lease! The fallout from all this petty carping and greed will inevitably result in the cruise lines casting a jaded eye to even the most serious complaints, hurting us all in the long run.''

Copyright (c) 1990 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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