- Several tourists have fallen ill or died while visiting the Dominican Republic in recent months.
- One woman, 43-year-old Awilda Montes of New York, told The New York Daily News that she became severely sick after drinking what she says was a bleach-filled soda in her minibar at the Luxury Bahia Principe Bouganville in October.
- Montes said that hotel management offered her a free couples massage and dinner in exchange for signing a non-disclosure agreement, which she refused.
- Legal experts told INSIDER that if the Dominican Republic resort did request for Montes to sign the NDA after she fell ill, they suspect it was likely used as a scare tactic to keep her quiet. They question whether an NDA in this context could actually be enforceable.
- Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.
Several tourists have claimed in recent months that they were poisoned or attacked while visiting the Dominican Republic – in addition to three people who died while staying at the same hotel chain on the island.
In late May, Nathaniel Holmes and Cynthia Ann Day of Maryland were found dead inside their room at the Bahia Principe hotel at the resort Playa Nueva Romana, five days after Miranda Schaup-Werner of Pennsylvania collapsed and died at the Luxury Bahia Principe Bouganville in San Pedro de Macoris.
Following the slate of recent deaths and illnesses on the island, people have begun to speak out about their own alleged near-death experiences while staying at Bahia Principe Hotels & Resorts. For instance, 43-year-old Awilda Montes of New York told The New York Daily News that she became severely sick after drinking what she says was a bleach-filled soda in her minibar at the Luxury Bahia Principe Bouganville in October. The incident left her vomiting blood and with chemical burns in her mouth.
“I honestly never imagined that somebody was trying to purposely do that until now, until watching the three deaths,” she told the Daily News. “Now I’m thinking had (the hotel) investigated this mystery, they would be alive.”
Montes added that the hotel management offered her a free couples massage and dinner in exchange for signing a non-disclosure agreement, which she refused.
Non-disclosure agreements are contracts that create a bond of confidentiality between two parties. While NDAs are legally enforceable, they have come under increased scrutiny from lawmakers, attorneys, and legal experts following revelations that powerful people and companies have used them to keep people silent. Perhaps most notably, Harvey Weinstein employed NDAs to stifle the woman who accused him of sexual misconduct.
In response, a handful of states, including New York and California, have passed laws restricting the use of NDAs when dealing with personal matters such as sexual harassment claims and discrimination.
Legal experts told INSIDER that if the Dominican Republic resort did request for Montes to sign the NDA after she fell ill, they suspect it was likely used as a scare tactic to keep her quiet. They question whether an NDA in this context could actually be enforceable.
“What strikes me is this hotel in the Dominican Republic is now using the same kind of abusive contracts that we see here and that have begun to multiply here,” Alan Garfield, a law professor at Delaware Law School, told INSIDER. “It seems like the virus is spreading to other places.”
Questions over the enforceability of the resort’s NDA
Experts flagged a few gaping holes about the resort’s use of NDAs when dealing with guests. For one, it is unclear whether the contract would have been enforced in the Dominican Republic, or in the United States after Montes returned home.
“If you’re that business, is it really worth trying to either haul her into court in the Dominican Republic, or are they going to sue in the United States and spend all that money to try and silence her?” said Clay Calvert, a communications professor at the University of Florida and director of the school’s Marion B. Brechner First Amendment Project.
“I think that if they try to either get a judgment there and enforce it here, or sue her here, that the courts here should be – and I think appropriately would be – unwilling to enforce such an agreement,” added Garfield. “The notion of asking somebody to keep this secret seems wholly inappropriate.”
Calvert told INSIDER that another red flag is whether the NDA even included a provision specifying what Montes would have been obliged to pay if she had signed, and later violated, the agreement. If it didn’t included a certain monetary sum, Montes would only have been expected to pay back the cost of the massage and dinner – which was likely minimal and, therefore, she could have still spoken out about her experience.
He also questioned whether a free massage or dinner would even be considered an adequate bargain to make the contract enforceable in the first place.
As Montes relayed to the Daily News: “I was miserable… I was vomiting. I had stomach pains. The chemical burns were all over. I still don’t have sensation in my tongue.”
According to medical records reviewed by the publication, she experienced “a pain in the dorsal and lateral region of the tongue, accompanied with vomiting… with a frequency of two occasions following the (ingestion) of a liquid approximately thirty minutes ago.”
Both Garfield and Calvert suspect that had Montes signed the contract, and even if it did include a specific amount of money she would have been required to pay back, it could still be declared void if a judge determined that enforcing it would be a violation of public policy – such as a contract to conceal a crime.
“There’s the larger question of does the health, safety, and welfare of individuals trump the possibility of enforceability of a non-disclosure agreement? That would be something that a court would have to weigh,” Calvert said.
Garfield said that he personally wouldn’t enforce that type of contract due to the public policy argument. He questions – in the most extreme scenario – whether a crime had occurred related to the three recent deaths, and if the NDA tried to cover that up.
“Can a hotel that has a record of serving drinks to people that kill them, or in this woman’s case made her severely ill, prevent this woman from revealing to newspapers and public health authorities and to the government that this activity is occurring because she signed the agreement, in exchange for a massage?” he said. “I’d say there’s a strong argument that there’s a powerful public interest in being aware of this.”
INSIDER reached out to Bahia Principe Hotels & Resorts for comment about the alleged use of NDAs. A spokesperson said in response “we reiterate our firm commitment to collaborating completely with the authorities and hope for a prompt resolution of their inquiries and actions and will not be making any further statements that may interfere with them.”
“The safety and comfort of our guests and staff stand at the core of our company values, and we work daily to ensure it,” the spokesperson added.
Have you had a negative health experience at this family of resorts? Email [email protected]
- Read more:
- 7 suspicious cases of tourists getting sick, assaulted, and dying in the Dominican Republic in the last year
- A woman claims she vomited blood and sustained ‘chemical burns’ after drinking what she believed was soda at the same Dominican resort where an American tourist died
- The Dominican Republic hotel where a woman said a mystery staff member beat her claims she demanded $US2.2 million before going public with her story
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