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Sick travelers left in limbo

By Mary Jo Melone
12/17/2009 © Health News Florida

Three Florida travel agencies have been disciplined and four others may be soon for selling trip-insurance policies from a company that had no Florida license.

Prime Travel Protection, of Arvada, Colo., went out of business last January, leaving scores of travelers who had to cancel or cut short their trips in a tough spot.

One of them is Richard Glazer, 71, who plunked down $10,000 for the cruise of a lifetime with his wife through the Greek Isles in October last year.  Glazer, a retired Allstate agent who lives near Tampa, spent another $710 on travel insurance through the Sarasota agency that booked his trip, Legendary Journeys.

It appeared to have been a smart move when Glazer suffered a massive heart attack on board the ship and spent 12 nights in a Turkish hospital. The equipment was as modern as in an American hospital, Glazer said, and the care was first-rate. A Turkish doctor even escorted him back to Tampa.

The welcome home was something else. When Glazer returned, he said, Prime delayed paying his bills, then went under. He was suddenly facing $61,000 in travel and medical expenses.

Glazer has sued Legendary Journeys, but the travel agency has troubles of its own. Last March, Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink issued a warning to Legendary and two other companies to stop doing business with Prime. The others were Palm Coast Travel of Lake Worth and Boca Raton, and Vacation Superstore Network doing business as Best Price Cruises in Port St. Lucie.

The travel agencies were accused of violating state law for selling Prime travel insurance when the company wasn’t licensed to do business in Florida. Those cases are still pending.

Since then, a warning has also been sent to Super Travel of West Palm Beach.

Best Price Cruises did not respond to a request for comment. Palm Coast Travel and Super Travel could not be located.

Three travel agencies have agreed to consent orders accepting discipline in which they are required to pay all claims that went unpaid by Prime.

--Cruise Options of Plantation was ordered to pay a $2,500 fine and was placed on two years probation.

--Cruise Supermarket, also of Plantation, received a $2,500 fine.

--High Performance Travel of South Daytona was fined $1,000 and also placed on probation.

All three companies were ordered to cooperate with any administrative or law enforcement investigation of Prime, according to the disciplinary documents.

Some travelers who lost money were those who canceled before going and couldn’t get a refund. Glazer’s case was more serious.

On Dec. 1, he sued Legendary Journeys and its president and insurance agent, Adrian Ferguson, charging negligence and deceptive or unfair trade practices. The lawsuit argued Legendary and Ferguson knew or should have known that Prime was not authorized to do business in Florida and had a history of not paying claims.

Legendary Journeys stopped doing business with Prime last September, the same month that Glazer booked his trip.

Al Ferguson, Adrian Ferguson’s son and co-founder of the company, said Prime denied Glazer’s claim because he failed to follow the proper procedures for notifying the insurance company that he needed medical care. “(Glazer) was not affected by the bankruptcy,” Al Ferguson said.

Legendary has “satisfied” 25 other clients who were affected by Prime going out of business, Al Ferguson said. He would not elaborate. The travel agency has also cooperated with the state investigation, he said.

As for Richard Glazer, he hasn’t been able to pay all his medical bills left from what was supposed to be this once-in-a-lifetime trip. He has paid all but the $38,000 hospital bill from Turkey. Said Glazer, “I don’t have the money.” 

--Mary Jo Melone, an independent journalist in Tampa, can be reached by e-mail