Lawsuit Says Mexican Resort Responsible for US Student’s Death

Nov 30, 2018

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A civil lawsuit has been filed against the Hotel Iberostar Paraiso del Mar resort in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, as well as US-based travel company Visit Us, which manages bookings for the resort. The family of 20-year-old student Abbey Conner alleges she died after drinking “tainted” alcohol and drowning in the upscale resort’s pool.

The 24-page lawsuit, which was filed on Wednesday, alleges that both the resort and booking site, “knew that alcoholic beverages being served at the Hotel Iberostar Paraiso del Mar were tainted, substandard, poisonous, unfit for human consumption and/or otherwise failed to meet bare minimum standards for food and beverage safety.” The lawsuit goes on to say that the defendants were negligent in protecting Conner “against risks of physical harm,” and are responsible for a death that was “tragic, senseless and entirely avoidable.”

Conner, from Pewaukee, Wisconsin, was visiting the all-inclusive resort in with her family in Jan. 2017 when both she and her brother, Austin, were found drowning in the shallow area of the pool after drinking tequila at a swim-up bar. Austin was “pulled from the pool with a golf-ball sized lump on his head and a concussion,” but Abbey was found “floating face down,” according to USA Today. Despite attempts to perform CPR on Abbey, a student at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, she was unresponsive and placed on a ventilator at the hospital. She was later airlifted to a facility in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where she was pronounced braindead by doctors.

The lawsuit, according to USA Today, “contends Iberostar and affiliated companies failed to take adequate safety measures such as preventing tainted alcohol from entering the premises, ensuring staff was properly trained and providing adequate surveillance cameras and lifeguards around the pool.”

The resort denies the accusations.

But as USA Today reports: “Mexican authorities have long acknowledged a problem with illicit alcohol but deny a widespread issue with it being tainted” and goes on to say that, “a 2017 report by government officials and industry representatives found as much as 36 percent of the alcohol consumed in the country is illicit, meaning it is produced under unregulated conditions.”

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel conducted an 18-month investigation of more than 200 cases, which turned up “dozens of tragedies experienced by tourists visiting resorts in Mexico in recent years,” including instances of vacationers consuming minimal amounts of alcohol only to later black out, something that typically happens only after drinking large quantities of alcohol or consuming a drink which has been laced with drugs.

“It’s unclear whether the vacationers were deliberately drugged or became random victims of adulterated alcohol,” the newspaper points out. Some reported getting violently ill, vomiting, foaming from the mouth and nose, and other physical symptoms. Others blacked out and woke up with no ailments.”

Despite the high number of incidences involving tainted alcohol, “the U.S. consular offices and Department of State did little to help,” according the newspaper says. After the Journal Sentinel’s report was released, “government authorities seized 90 gallons of illicit alcohol, temporarily shut down a bar in a resort within the Iberostar complex where the Conners stayed and uncovered a clandestine distillery with 10,000 gallons of alcohol produced with ‘bad manufacturing practices.'”

Abbey’s father, Bill, told USA Today, “I think it’s about time that somebody is held responsible for something that has been going on for far too long. We’re looking for justice for my daughter and for others behind us that have never been vindicated.”

Feature image by Masci Giuseppe/AGF/UIG via Getty Images.

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