Legal Briefing: Jamaican vacation trips up relationship

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Dear John,

I just returned from Jamaica after a horrific ordeal. It was not the romantic trip I expected. I thought my boyfriend was going to propose to me. Instead, after we got to Jamaica we had a huge argument that ended with him leaving me there. He left me with no money, no passport (he took my passport), no return ticket and a hotel bill of several hundred dollars.

When my boyfriend said he wanted to take me to Jamaica, I did not think it would turn out like this. Can I sue him?

Sincerely,

Marooned Mary

Dear Marooned

I can’t imagine how distraught you must have been. The closest I have ever come to being in that situation was my first day of kindergarten.

There are many areas of law that are at play here. The first area is contract law. When he said that he wanted to “take you to Jamaica,” he could argue that he fulfilled any obligations made and that it did not include a return ticket. Your response would be that the tradition of a vacation is an implied round trip, and that “to Jamaica” is nothing more than an idiom. He bought a round-trip ticket and you relied upon this purchase as part of your agreeing to travel with him.

There are laws related to gifts, which involve a transfer of ownership with nothing in return. A person is allowed to promise a gift and then break the promise at any time before transferring ownership. He can argue that he was making several gifts: plane travel there, hotel stay and plane ticket back. You would respond that it was a single gift — a trip — that included all items related to the trip. You would then have to argue which items are parts of the gift. This could prove knotty for you because it might include food but not souvenirs.

The passport is a trickier subject. There is no doubt that he should not be allowed to take your passport. However, the passport is not owned by you. It is owned by the United States. I suspect that he broke several federal laws when he took it. However, his crime occurred outside the U.S. Depending on what he did with the passport after he took it, the U.S. might want to know about his actions. I suspect that they will just replace the passport. The cost of replacing it could be included in your claim for damages.

The hotel bill is probably governed by Jamaican law, since that’s where the hotel is located. You would have to consult an attorney in Jamaica about recovering those expenses.

Your boyfriend’s actions against you most likely fall into a category of law called a tort. A tort is a civil wrong done against another party for which there is a legal remedy. You may have a jurisdiction problem because much of the wrongdoing occurred in Jamaica. I think that with little effort you could convince a judge to hear it in the location where your former boyfriend resides. At a minimum, you can claim that he intentionally inflicted emotional distress on you and that it resulted in damages.

Good luck, and happy travels,

John

John Hartzell is a practicing Walla Walla attorney. No attorney-client relationship is established via this column, which is for educational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Any information given is to illustrate basic legal concepts and does not state how any court would decide any matter. Have a question? Ask John at askjohn@wwub.com.

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