August 7, 2002 - Disabled Man Sues United Airlines; Mandeville Passenger Says He Was Mistreated

A 36-year-old Mandeville man who cannot walk and has limited use of his arms sued Unites Airlines claiming United employees at Louis Armstrong International Airport mistreated him and that his electric wheelchair was damaged after he arrived in New Orleans on a United flight from Denver in early March.

Christopher L. Young, a quadriplegic since a diving accident 13 years ago, travels frequently to Denver for annual evaluations of his spinal cord injuries. Young says he was "mishandled" by United agents who transferred him to his seat on his February flight from New Orleans to Denver. The law suit accuses the airline of violating a 1986 federal law that bars air carriers from discriminating against disabled people. A United spokesman said the company does not comment on pending cases.

The civil action claims that United's most outrageous conduct involved airline employees who refused to bring Young's motorized wheelchair to the terminal gate when the couple's flight from Denver landed. The lawsuit, seeking unspecified damages, accuses United of failing to provide Young and his wife, Amy Klein, with safe and adequate travel services.

Young was forced to ride to the baggage claim area strapped into an aisle chair, a narrow wheelchair used inside planes to move disabled passengers to and from their seats. "It's simply not meant to be comfortable for lengthy confinement," Young said. According to the suit, as Young sat in front of the United baggage office while his wife tried to find their luggage and reassemble his electric wheelchair, a United employee repeatedly ignored Young's requests for help and called police after telling the couple to move the chair. Klein said Tuesday, however, that the police officer helped her put the wheelchair back together.

The lawsuit alleges that the mistreatment caused Young to become agitated and exhibit signs of autonomic dysreflexia, a potentially life-threatening complication of spinal cord injury in which a person's blood pressure may rise to dangerous levels. Additionally, the suit claims, "[w]hen Mr. Young was finally unstrapped from the aisle chair and moved to the wheelchair, it was discovered he was soaked in his own urine."

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