A family has alleged that United Airlines’ “negligent” handling of their quadriplegic and ventilator-dependent son in 2019 led to a “catastrophic brain injury” that left him in a “persistent vegetative state.” He is not expected to recover.
According to a press release from the Albert G. Stoll, Jr. law firm, “Plaintiff Pamela Foster called the United Airlines Accessibility Desk” prior to purchasing airline tickets for her family. Over the course of multiple telephone calls, “Mrs. Foster disclosed her son’s quadriplegia, his dependence on a ventilator to breathe, and requested onboarding and deplaning assistance for her son on their family’s trip from San Francisco to Monroe, Louisiana.”
In court documents, Foster alleges that agents contracted by United Airlines at Monroe Regional Airport (MLU) mishandled her son NJ Foster, a then-21-year-old university student, during the deplaning process from an Embraer ERJ-145 regional jet. The complaint provides the following detail:
43. Plaintiff Conservatee NJ Foster’s feet were dragging on the airplane’s flooring as he was wheeled through and out of the airplane.
44. Robert Brown, Jr. aggressively pushed the aisle chair through the singular aisle of the small plane, causing Plaintiff NJ Foster to sway and slip over the right side of the aisle chair on two separate occasions prior to reaching the plane’s threshold.
45. On the first occasion, Plaintiff Conservatee NJ Foster prominently leaned to the right side, and was propped up by his father, Plaintiff Nathaniel Foster.
46. On the second occasion, Plaintiff NJ again leaned to the right side, but was caught by an interior wall of the plane that propped him up upon exiting from the plane.
47. Upon reaching the plane’s threshold, Robert Brown, Jr. pushed the aisle chair forcefully and caused the aisle chair to move forward violently and then fall back.
48. Plaintiff NJ Foster’s body jerked forward and back in response and slouched down into the seat.
49. Plaintiff Pamela Foster asked her son if he was okay and heard her son whisper, “I can’t breathe.”
50. Plaintiff Pamela Foster immediately began yelling for assistance.
51. Dr. Edgar Leon Feinberg, a thoracic and cardiac surgeon, meanwhile was waiting inside the terminal at Gate 6 to board the plane for his own flight.
52. Upon hearing Plaintiff Pamela Foster scream loudly for help from the jet bridge below, Dr. Edgar Leon Feinberg identified himself as a doctor and offered assistance to the United Airlines agent at Gate 6 (Name Unknown, referred to as Agent #4).
53. In response, Agent #4 audibly “giggled” and communicated to Dr. Feinberg that no help was needed, that he could take his seat because “we got this.”
54. Dr. Edgar Leon Feinberg went back to his seat and sat down as directed.
55. Meanwhile, Plaintiff Nathaniel Foster looked to his son and immediately noticed that his son looked wide-eyed, fearful, and that his lips were turning a deep purple color.
56. NJ Foster was removed from the wheelchair and laid onto the floor of the jet bridge, attaching the plane to the airport terminal.
57. Gate Agent Mignon Jackson remained holding Plaintiff’s ventilator at all times.
58. Plaintiff NJ Foster went into cardiac arrest.
59. Plaintiff Nathaniel Foster provided CPR to his son.
60. Plaintiff Pamela Foster provided assistance to her son with an Artificial Manual Breathing Unit (also known as an “AMBU” or “AMBU bag”).
61. Plaintiff Natalie Foster stood nearby watching her parents attend to her brother, NJ.
62. A police officer, “Private Blue” arrived and took over chest compressions from father, Nathaniel Foster.
63. Approximately three (3) to five (5) minutes later, Dr. Edgar Leon Feinberg was called down to the jetway.
64. Upon arrival at Plaintiff NJ Foster’s side, Dr. Feinberg observed that Plaintiff NJ Foster did not have a pulse and began coaching CPR.
65. The fire department arrived at the scene on or about 4:27 p.m. and assumed chest compressions.
66. According to the Fire Department’s report, its personnel checked Plaintiff NJ Foster’s airway and found that his tracheal tube was not in place, which was also confirmed by an additional medic.
No evidence has yet been presented in the case, however the claim that a medical doctor responded to calls for help and was turned away by airline staff is alarming if true. Presumably, such a claim could be proven through witness testimony or video footage from security cameras in the airport terminal.
The family of Nathaniel “NJ” Foster, Jr. deserves to have their case heard, and the trial is upcoming. In a press release concerning the case, Mrs. Foster stated, “What happened to our son, to our family, cannot be undone. We hope that through our loss, lessons present themselves so that no other family has to suffer.” The case, Nathaniel Foster, et al. v. United Airlines, Inc. et al., will be tried in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. The trial is scheduled to begin on Monday, August 7, 2023.
Plaintiffs’ attorney of record, Jessica Juarez, states that “Airlines and their contractors must do better to ensure safe and equal access to travel for all passengers with a disability requesting assistance.”
I intend to travel to San Francisco to report on the trial, which should prove to be an important test case concerning the limits of an airline’s liability for injuries caused to passengers with disabilities. Trips like these are not possible without the support of readers like you — to support my coverage of this case, please consider upgrading to a paid newsletter subscription and/or making a donation through PayPal.