Home >> Travel Troubles >> You should not file a $16,000 damaged luggage claim. This is why

You should not file a $16,000 damaged luggage claim. This is why

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Michelle Couch-Friedman

Consumer reporter and ombudsman

After a flight from Mexico, Lynda Lebrock discovered that unidentified  “goo” had damaged all three pieces of her luggage. She filed a claim and hoped the airline would quickly pay — all $16,000 of it.

As you probably guessed, things didn’t work out the way she hoped. The sky-high damaged luggage claim was swiftly rejected almost in its entirety. Now she’s asking our advocacy team for help. But can we? 

Lynda’s case is an example of how placing an unrealistic value on your damaged luggage claim can end poorly. It’s also a reminder to document the damage to your bags and request reasonable compensation keeping in mind airline and insurance liability limitations.

A sky-high damaged luggage claim will never fly

“My luggage came back from Mexico in some type of oily substance. I didn’t know if it was toxic, ” Lynda explained. “And not knowing whether this substance was toxic, I threw everything out.”

Lynda was under the impression that the airline would reimburse her for all of the discarded items — sight unseen.

This goo ruined everything — my luggage and contents. I filed a claim with the airline, but they offered me just $45 for dry cleaning. I also filed a claim with RoamRight and they denied the claim because I didn’t save the luggage nor the items. But who was going to pay for possible medical bills or to decontaminate my house if we got ill?

When Lynda’s plea for help landed in my inbox my eyes immediately zoomed in on the $16,000 listed on the request. I was sure that the value on the damaged luggage claim must be a typo. I pointed it out to Lynda and asked for clarification.

She quickly responded that it was not a typo. Her estimated value of the items that she had tossed in the garbage can was $16,000. But she assured me that she had taken pictures of the damages and had receipts for the items.

A (somewhat) smaller baggage reimbursement request

Soon Lynda had gathered all her receipts and sent them to me. Now that she had taken a closer look, she amended her compensation expectations to “around $8,000.”

But there were multiple problems with Lynda’s astronomical damaged luggage claim.

Her first roadblock to a successful claim? Established airline liability limitations.

Because Lynda was traveling from Mexico, the Montreal Convention rules apply for the international flight. Under this regulation, the maximum that a passenger can expect for reimbursement for lost or damaged bags is currently around $1,780.

The Department of Transportation explains the airlines’ liability limitations on international flights:

International Baggage Liability

For most INTERNATIONAL flights, a treaty called the Montreal Convention applies to the carriage of baggage.  The maximum baggage liability for flights covered by the Montreal Convention is currently 1,288 Special Drawing Rights (approximately $1,780.00 US).  This is the most that airlines must pay a passenger for a lost, damaged, or delayed bag.  Airlines are free to pay more than the limit, but are not required to do so.

From the Department of Transportation

Tossing the ruined suitcases in the garbage can

But if you’re claiming an airline damaged your luggage and the items inside your bags, you must provide proof. Both the airline and the insurance company will want evidence of the damage. Otherwise, you won’t qualify for any compensation.

By throwing away all of her items, Lynda had thrown away the physical proof of the damage. 

The fact that she had tossed her ruined bags into a garbage can was a giant problem.

Unfortunately, we’ve encountered other consumers who have thrown away critical evidence to their cases, too. Like George Paddock. He believed bed bugs had infested his belongings during his hotel stay. Paddock told me that he immediately threw $3,000 worth of belongings in a trash can along the side of the road. The hotel rejected his reimbursement request when Orkin certified that the room contained no bedbugs.

To be clear, it’s never wise to toss away high-valued evidence until you’ve confirmed the problem and documented it. That is unless you don’t mind losing those items without a promise of reimbursement.

Photos of the damage to the suitcases and items

But back to Lynda’s case. I wanted to see the photos that she had taken of the damaged bags. I thought that the airline or insurance company might be willing to provide some type of reimbursement — if the photos supported the claim.

However, Lynda’s photographic “evidence” that supported her damaged luggage claim quickly squashed that thought.

The passenger filed a sky-high damaged luggage claim for suitcases she claimed to have tossed in the garbage. So why did she send this photo of the bags in her closet?
The photos that Lynda sent to support her sky-high damaged luggage claim didn’t quite do the trick.

I wasn’t even sure what I was looking at in some of the photographs.

I explained to Lynda that these photos were not going to help her case. In fact, I thought that they hurt her case. These photos are dark, blurry and they show her suitcases inside what appears to be her closet. Her evidence contradicts the claim that she threw all the damaged luggage away to avoid contaminating her home.

What went wrong with this insurance claim?

First, Lynda placed an unreasonably high value on her baggage reimbursement request. RoamRight places a maximum limit on her trip insurance policy of $2,500 per person — per trip (not per bag). The $16,000 figure likely set off alarm bells with the insurance company and caused it to closely analyze the claim. And unfortunately for Lynda, she had no proof of the damage to her luggage. Providing receipts does not give proof that an airline ruined the items. And it’s really not clear what the pictures Lynda offered are showing.

If you discover that an airline damaged your belongings, you should not leave the airport until you make a claim. In this case, Lynda should have snapped her photos inside the well-lit airport. She could have then left the luggage in the claims department if she was concerned about contamination. Lynda should also have photographed each damaged high-ticket item.

Our advocacy team could not help Lynda because she made too many missteps in her efforts to obtain reimbursement for her damaged belongings. Her initial, incredibly high request probably tainted her claim from the start. And the pictures that she provided did not document any damage.

In the end, this case is a study of what not to do if you find that airline “goo” has damaged your baggage.

How to get your damaged luggage claim approved

If your luggage arrives damaged, here are some things to keep in mind before you make a claim.

  • Know the established airline liability limitations
    Before you fill out your claim for your damaged luggage, it’s essential to know the airline’s official liability limitations. Keep in mind that the Montreal Convention sets airline liability limits for international flights, including personal injury liability limitations (see: Never claim to be nearly killed in an inflight injury if you weren’t.). Currently the upper liability limit per passenger for damaged luggage is set at around $1,780. For domestic flights, the figure is much higher. The Department of Transportation sets the airline’s liability limit at $3,800 for your damaged luggage. Remember these are upper limits (per passenger, not per luggage piece). There is no requirement that the airline pay you the upper limit.
  • Inspect your luggage at the airport
    After a long flight, you may only be thinking about getting to your hotel or back home. But it’s critical to inspect your luggage for damage as soon as you remove it from the baggage carousel. If you do find there is a problem, make a report with the airline before you leave the airport. Be sure to take clear photos that illustrate the problem.
  • Don’t pack cash, jewelry, electronics or fragile items in your checked suitcases
    Most domestic airlines have exclusions to their liability in their terms and conditions. (See: If you take $158,000 of jewelry on a flight and it goes missing, who pays?). If you pack high-value items in your checked luggage most airlines will automatically reject that part of your claim. Internationally, this may not be the case, but the limitations of the Montreal Convention still prevail. So it’s never wise to pack anything of great value in your checked luggage.
  • Ask your homeowner’s insurance company about coverage
    If you must travel with high-value items (for instance, a wedding gown or adventuring equipment), you’ll want to ensure those items are protected. Contact your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance company and ask about coverage for your special items.
  • Keep receipts for all your high-ticket items
    Many travelers make special purchases for planned vacations. It’s a good idea to keep the receipts for all of those new items until after your trip is complete. You may also wish to photograph the items as you pack them into your suitcase.
  • File an appeal with your state’s insurance regulator
    The insurance industry is highly regulated. If you filed a travel insurance claim that you think the company mishandled, you can appeal your case. You do that through the insurance regulator in your state.  Here’s how to find your state’s insurance board.
  • File a complaint with the Department of Transportation
    If you believe the airline has rejected your damaged luggage claim in error (domestically or internationally), you can file a complaint with the Department of Transportation using this form. Sometimes that complaint provides the nudge the airline needs to approve your claim. (Michelle Couch-Friedman, Consumer Rescue)

*For more helpful tips, don’t forget to check out Consumer Rescue’s ultimate guide: What to do before and after an airline loses your luggage.

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Michelle Couch-Friedman

Michelle Couch-Friedman is the founder and CEO of Consumer Rescue. She is a consumer advocate, ombudsman columnist, mediator, writer, and licensed psychotherapist. Michelle is a public speaker, and her expert guidance has been cited in MarketWatch, Consumer Reports, Travel & Leisure, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, Popular Science, CNN, CNBC, Boston Globe, CBS News, National Geographic, Travel Weekly, Reader's Digest and more. You might even catch Michelle on TV reporting on a situation. :) Michelle is also the travel ombudsman columnist for The Points Guy and is the former executive director of the nonprofit Elliott Advocacy. During her six years in that position, she resolved thousands of cases for troubled travelers and other consumers. You can read hundreds of 5-star reviews Michelle earned during her service to the nonprofit since 2016 here on Great Nonprofits. She is also a member of the Society of American Travel Writers. Today, she continues to spend as much time as possible fiercely defending consumers and traveling the world with her family. Contact her at Michelle Couch-Friedman or on Linkedin, Twitter or Facebook.