United Airlines has reportedly agreed to a $30 million settlement in a lawsuit brought by the family of a quadriplegic passenger who was left in a permanent coma following a deplaning accident on February 8, 2019.
Details of the settlement were accidentally made public on Wednesday after officials in the District Court for Northern California mistakenly published confidential information surrounding the case before later retracting the documents.
The family of Nathaniel Foster Jr. sued United Airlines after he went into cardiac arrest as ground staff attempted to move him off a United Express plane at Monroe Airport in Louisiana, where they were visiting to attend a family funeral.
Up until the day of the accident, Nathaniel, 21, had been attending college and was hoping to one day become a physician, although he was quadriplegic and had to use a tracheal tube, ventilator and powered wheelchair due to a separate accident in 2016.
On arrival in Monroe, the lawsuit alleged that just one person was sent to help move Nathaniel off the aircraft, despite the fact that it usually took at least four helpers to safely move Nathaniel in an aisle wheelchair.
When Nathaniel’s family questioned whether anyone else was coming to help, the ground worker dismissed their concerns, telling them, “I know what I’m doing”, before abandoning Nathaniel and telling the family to “do it yourself” when they requested additional assistance.
Two ground staff then attempted to move Nathaniel, with one holding his ventilator and the other controlling the aisle chair.
The lawsuit alleged that the ground worker “aggressively” pushed the aisle chair along the narrow aisle, causing Nathaniel’s feet to drag along the floor and for him to sway and slip on several occasions.
As they got to the aircraft door, the aisle chair was pushed forcefully, causing Nathaniel’s body to jerk forward and back and then slump forward. He whispered that he couldn’t breathe as his lips turned a dark shade of purple.
A cardiac surgeon who was waiting to board a flight offered to assist, but one of the ground workers giggled and dismissed him, saying: “We got this”.
Nathaniel was then removed from the chair and laid on the ground, where he went into cardiac arrest. His family immediately started CPR, and the doctor was eventually called back to assist before emergency responders arrived at the scene.
Despite quick medical intervention, Nathienel remains in a coma, and his long-term prognosis is poor.
The settlement was reached after a jury trial had already begun earlier this month. In a statement, United Airlines told Reuters that it was “pleased” the matter had been settled.
“Our top priority is to provide a safe journey for all our customers, especially those who require additional assistance or the use of a wheelchair,” a spokesperson for the airline said.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.