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Saturday, May 25, 2024 | Back issues
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Quadriplegic Can Pursue JetBlue for Broken Leg

(CN) - JetBlue must face allegations that a quadriplegic man fell out of his wheelchair and broke his leg while airline workers helped him board a plane, a federal judge ruled.

George Gill, of Quincy, Ma., has some use of his upper limbs but none of his lower extremities. Incomplete quadriplegia requires him to use a wheelchair.

While trying to fly from Logan Airport to Tampa, Fla., with his wife in February 2009, JetBlue allegedly permitted Gill to board the plane early with help from two JetBlue employees.

The employees transferred Gill to a narrower wheelchair that would fit in the aisle of the plane, but he claims they ignored his requests and neglected to lower the armrest on the wheelchair.

"As the employees continued preparing the chair for boarding, Mr. Gill began to slip off the left side of the wheelchair," according to the court's summary of Gill's complaint. "The employees were unable to prevent Mr. Gill from falling off the side of the chair. ... Ultimately, a group of men helped Mr. Gill back onto the aisle/boarding wheelchair and onto the plane."

In Tampa, Gill went to a hospital by ambulance and allegedly learned that the fall fractured his left femur. He required two surgeries on his leg to repair the damage.

Gill and his wife sued JetBlue in July 2010, alleging that the two JetBlue employees were negligent when assisting him aboard and that JetBlue failed to properly train its employees.

U.S. District Judge Dennis Saylor refused last week to grant JetBlue judgment on the pleadings for Gill's personal injury claims.

JetBlue claimed that the Airline Deregulation Act pre-empts Gill's tort claims, but the judge found that "there is little reason to believe that the clause was intended to extend to personal injury actions."

"Plaintiffs allege that JetBlue employees breached a standard of care imposed on society as a whole (or, at least, one imposed on all common carriers)," Saylor wrote. "The enforcement of this standard may have incidental impacts on the nature of boarding services provided to disabled passengers by airlines, but there is no reason to believe it will restrain the ability of airlines to compete in providing those services."

The negligent training claim, however, met a different fate with Saylor finding that the Airline Carrier Access Act (ACAA) pre-empts "state law that would hold airlines to training obligations different from those explicitly set forth in the ACAA regulations." Gill may seek damages if he can prove that the federal standard was violated, according to the 22-page decision.

Gill may plead the allegation again in an amended complaint.

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