• United Airlines agrees to pay $30 million settlement to family of quadriplegic passenger who suffered damage during deplaning incident.
  • Foster's family claimed that United Airlines failed to provide expected care for disabled.

United Airlines has reportedly agreed to pay a $30 million settlement to the family of a quadriplegic passenger who fell into a coma following an incident during the deplaning process.

In a lawsuit seen by Reuters, the family of Nathaniel Foster Jr. claimed that United Airlines did not meet the expected level of care for disabled passengers during his deplaning in 2019. They alleged that an agent forcefully pushed Foster's wheelchair, resulting in severe and permanent brain damage.

Following a one-day trial in San Francisco federal court, United Airlines reached a settlement on August 22, 22023, for the lawsuit. The payment amounts to $30 million, with approximately $12 million allocated for legal fees and an additional $3 million covering other various expenses.

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As per the complaint, Foster appeared fearful and whispered, "I can't breathe," but a gate agent dismissed a doctor's offer to help, stating, "we got this." Foster subsequently experienced a heart attack, and a doctor on-site discovered he had no pulse.

Simple Flying has asked United Airlines for a comment but did not receive a reply at the time of publication.

United Airlines Boeing 777 landing
Photo: Vytautas Kielaitis/Shutterstock

This is not the first time United Airlines has been accused of disabled passenger negligence. In 2018, the airline was sued for neglecting a disabled passenger who alleged that United failed to provide wheelchair assistance as requested.

In 2021, Engracia Figueroa, a prominent advocate for disability rights, died after United Airlines staff accidentally damaged her wheelchair and refused to replace her damaged $30,000 wheelchair. Months after the accident, United finally agreed to replace the chair. Still, it was argued that Figueroa suffered health complications in the meantime that led to her death, according to a report by Forbes.

Flying can be a challenge

Air travel can pose challenges for individuals with disabilities. The subject of enhancing air travel accessibility often revolves around assistive devices such as wheelchairs. Among the numerous obstacles faced by wheelchair users, a prominent issue is their compatibility with the main cabin space of most aircraft.

But also numerous reports reveal instances where airline or airport personnel lack proper assistance to disabled passengers during their journey. Many airlines have received criticism for their lack of support for passengers with disabilities. For instance, in 2022, easyJet faced legal action after a passenger sustained injuries from falling out of his wheelchair while disembarking a flight from Edinburgh. A court in Scotland has found in favor of a disabled passenger who brought a civil case against easyJet.

Passenger in a wheelchair at an airport
Photo: Andrey_Popov/Shutterstock

Despite regrettable instances, the airline industry, although slow, has made progress in making air travel more accessible and convenient for disabled passengers.

In the realm of air travel, passengers now have access to TSA notification cards, a novel card that travelers can carry to security checkpoints. This card lets passengers discreetly inform airport security about any medical conditions or disabilities that could affect the screening procedure. Likewise, airports worldwide are adopting sunflower lanyards, a global symbol denoting a concealed disability.

In addition, platforms such as Alternative Airlines strongly emphasize catering to the needs of individuals with disabilities. Alternative Airlines is a flight search website dedicated to assisting individuals with disabilities in locating the most suitable and accessible flights for their travels.

Sources: Reuters, Forbes