Lawyers advise agents in Balkan trips


NEW YORK -- Two industry lawyers agreed that agents should get clients planning to travel to the Balkans to sign documents that say they were warned about the potential dangers in the region.

"The important thing for agents to remember from a legal standpoint is that all the verbal warnings in the world don't mean anything without signed documentation," Mark Pestronk, a Fairfax, Va.-based travel lawyer, said.

Another key point, Pestronk added, is that every adult above the age of 18 must sign the document. A husband cannot sign for his wife. In addition, every member of a group tour must sign in order for the agent to be protected.

Jeff Miller, an Ellicott City, Md.-based attorney, said an agent's first line of protection is to not sell tickets to the Balkan region. The second line of defense, he said, is to obtain a signed disclaimer.

Miller said he would advise agents to draft a paragraph stating that there is a "[dangerous situation] in the Balkans, including demonstrations against Americans in many areas."

Pestronk agreed and added that agents must have Balkan travelers sign documents that acknowledge that the agent has no more knowledge than the general public about the situation. "The travel agent is not liable unless they represent that they have some sort of knowledge that the general public doesn't have about the unrest," Pestronk said.

However, Miller said that travel agents could be liable if a traveler can prove that they should have been warned of potential dangers. That is where the document comes in, the lawyers said.

It should include the state department's phone number, and the client should be advised to call it for more detailed information. Agents should make a copy of the signed document and keep it on file, Pestronk said.

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