US & Canada

US family sues Cancun resort over 'poisonous' alcohol death

Abbey Conner Image copyright Facebook
Image caption Abbey Conner was left brain dead after a drink at the five-star resort

A Wisconsin family is suing a luxury resort in Mexico and a bookings site, claiming tainted alcohol caused the death of their 20-year-old daughter.

Abbey Conner was found drowned in a pool at an Iberostar hotel in Playa del Carmen last year after consuming allegedly "poisonous" alcohol.

Her brother Austin, 22, who also had a drink from the pool bar, was rescued drowning in the shallow waters.

Hundreds have since spoken out about dangerous drinks at Mexican resorts.

The wrongful death civil lawsuit claims that the five-star Iberostar hotel and its affiliates, including US-based booking website Visit Us, knew the alcohol being served was "tainted, substandard, poisonous, unfit for human consumption".

It argues that Abbey Conner's death was "tragic, senseless and entirely avoidable".

Image copyright Family photo
Image caption Abbey Conner (left), her brother Austin (far right) and their parents

The Conner family is seeking unspecified damages for physical, mental and emotional pain and suffering caused by the hotel's negligence.

The hotel refused to apologise or acknowledge any responsibility for the 7 January 2017 incident, the lawsuit claims.

Iberostar has not commented on the lawsuit thus far.

Ms Conner's death prompted the US Department of State to issue a travel advisory last summer regarding tainted alcohol in Mexico.

What happened?

According to the family, shortly after they arrived at the Hotel Iberostar near Cancun, Mexico, Abbey and Austin decided to relax in the hotel pool.

They had drinks at the pool bar, and soon afterwards began experiencing ill effects.

There were no lifeguards at the pool, according to the lawsuit, and hotel staff were alerted by another guest that the brother and sister were drowning.

Ms Conner was found face down in the water, foaming at the mouth.

The hotel took both siblings to a hospital without telling their parents, the family said.

The parents, John Conner and Ginny McGowan, only learned what had happened when they asked hotel staff to call their children's room to check why they were late for dinner.

By the time the parents arrived at the hospital, Abbey was unconscious and on a respirator while Austin was sedated.

The family say the hospital demanded a $10,000 (£7,800) deposit and $6,371 payment before Ms Conner could be taken to an intensive care unit, and the hotel refused to help pay.

Days later, the young woman was airlifted to the Broward Health Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

She was declared brain dead and passed away days later on 12 January.

After Abbey Conner's death, her mother told CBS News that holidaymakers should be cautious in Mexico: "It's been a nightmare, it's horrific.

"Be very, very careful of what you eat drink and you don't know what's necessarily in a drink or food."

How dangerous is tainted alcohol?

The complaint alleges that Iberostar used an illegal distillery to supply alcohol to the Paraiso del Mar resort.

It notes that Mexican authorities "suspended" the hotel's lobby bar after raids found gallons of tainted alcohol in the area in 2017.

Black market booze reportedly contains toxic levels of methanol, which is extremely harmful even in small doses.

A Milwaukee Journal Sentinel special investigation cited in the lawsuit found over 200 other holidaymakers spoke of disturbing experiences at similar resorts.

A number of victims alleged that local law enforcement conducted slipshod investigations into their ordeals.

Around 100 said they had "blacked out from small or moderate amounts of alcohol and were robbed, raped or otherwise injured while visiting all-inclusive resorts in Mexico".

Attorney Gary Davidson called the incident "frightening", in a statement announcing the Abbey Conner lawsuit on Wednesday.

He told the Sentinel there was no way the brother and sister were drunk.

"There's a big difference between being drunk and losing self-control," he said.

"Combine that with what we know has happened in the Playa del Carmen area over the last few years.

"Clearly there is a fundamental problem, or there was at the time when Abbey died, as a result of having consumed this concoction."

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