Lawsuit: Passenger Injured After United Airlines Failed To Provide Wheelchair Assistance

Image courtesy of Adam Fagen

A United Airlines passenger has filed a lawsuit against the company, claiming that she fell down an escalator and was injured after the carrier failed to provide her with wheelchair assistance as promised.

The plaintiff is an 89-year-old Texas woman who filed a lawsuit [PDF] July 14 in the Houston Division of the Southern District of Texas. She’s alleging that in sending an electric cart to fetch her instead of an attendant with a wheelchair, the airline was negligent, and failed to comply with applicable federal and state statutes.

According to the complaint, the passenger checker her suitcase at the United baggage counter at LAX, and spoke to an attendant who gave her a wheelchair voucher and told her a wheelchair would be waiting upon her arrival at Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport. From there, she’d be transported to baggage claim, and then on to ground transportation. She requires assistance due to her age and “difficulty in ambulating long distances,” the complaint says.

When she landed in Houston, she says she disembarked and asked a United representative about the wheelchair, and was instructed to sit in the gate waiting area for the chair and an attendant. After waiting alone for about 10 minutes, a man operating an electric cart stopped near the gate waiting area and approached the woman, and told her to get on the electric cart, grabbing her arm to escort her, according to the lawsuit.

She says the cart took her to the “general vicinity” of the “down” escalator within the airport, which leads to the baggage area and ground transportation. That’s when the operator told her to get off the cart, “and left her standing alone,” the complaint says.

“With no other assistance by United, or any explanation as to whether she would be provided any further assistance to the baggage claim area on the lower level, Plaintiff attempted to access the escalator to go down to the baggage claim area,” the lawsuit reads. “As Plaintiff grabbed the handrail to step onto the escalator, suddenly and unexpectedly, she fell to the bottom of the escalator and was knocked unconscious.”

As a result of the fall, the woman says she sustained serious injuries, “including four fractured ribs, a fractured pelvis, and injuries to her left shoulder, left arm, back and legs.”

She spent a week in the hospital before transferring to a medical center closer to her home for continued treatment, and says she now has to use a cane to walk and “can no longer participate in many activities she was able to enjoy prior to the incident.”

The woman alleges United Airlines failed to provide wheelchair assistance, “which constitutes negligence and falls below the standard of reasonable care for a common carrier airline.”

By failing to provide wheelchair assistance, she says the airline failed to comply with “applicable federal and state statutes, regulations, ordinances, rules, and/or codes pertaining to the safety and assistance of disabled invitees.” That includes Department of Transportation rules which require air carries to “ensure that individuals with a disability are to be provided with assistance in enplaning, deplaning, and in making flight connections and transportation between gates.”

She’s seeking a trial by jury, damages in an amount to be determined, pre-judgment and post-judgment interest, all legal costs and such other relief as the court deems just and appropriate.

“We are dedicated to providing convenient and comfortable service to all of our customers,” a United spokeswoman told Consumerist in an emailed statement. “While we haven’t been served with a lawsuit, we are looking into this matter with our wheelchair service partner.”