United Airlines has settled a reputation-shattering court case for $30 million after a complaint of catastrophic failings in their care for a passenger who required special assistance.
Nathanial Foster Jr, 26, known as NJ, was on a United Express flight from San Francisco with his family, on his way to a funeral on 8 February 2019, when the series of failings occurred, leaving him with life-changing injuries and a reduced life-expectancy.
Repeated assurances not carried through
NJ was a quadriplegic wheelchair user who also used a ventilator and had a tracheal tube. His needs meant that between four and six staff members would usually be involved in helping him. His mother, Pamela Foster, said in a pre-trial statement that United had given the family “repeated assurances” that NJ would be properly cared for during the journey.
However, on arrival at Monroe, Louisana, instead of the usual four to six staff members needed to help NJ disembark the plane, only one member of staff was available, according to the complaint.
Fine. Do it yourself, then…I’m out.The alleged “ramp supervisor” pushing the aisle chair
That staff member called for additional help and a supervisor arrived with what is known as an “aisle chair”. This is a special wheelchair adapted for narrow spaces. The family requested further help and, court documents recorded, the supervisor abandoned the situation, saying: “Fine. Do it yourself, then … I’m out.”
This resulted in a baggage handler taking over NJ’s exit from the plane. WorldonWheels blog notes that it is common practice to use straps and belts to secure people needing additional assistance into aisle chairs, which the baggage handler did. But the way NJ was then pushed “aggressively” caused his body to jerk and slump, said Reuters.
I can’t breathe.Nathanial Foster Jr,
His last words were a now chillingly-familiar whisper: “I can’t breathe.” When Pamela heard him say this, she immediately sought further help but a gate agent refused intervention offered by a surgeon and even laughed at the situation.
NJ’s heart stopped and he suffered “significant” brain damage, according to Reuters. He has not spoken or eaten solid foods since, and a statement earlier this summer described him as being in a “vegetative” state. United’s lack of care is believed to have worsened NJ’s life-limiting condition, meaning that instead of looking forward to a further 13 years, he is now expected to live only another five and half.
“What happened to our son, to our family, cannot be undone,” Pamela Foster said in a statement, adding, “We hope that through our loss, lessons present themselves so that no other family has to suffer.”
United’s statement to Reuters said: “We are pleased to share that this matter has settled.”