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Paralyzed Veteran Sues United Airlines & Airport Workers After Suffering Injuries & Being Denied Help

Travelers Today       By    Katie McFadden

Updated: Nov 15, 2012 04:44 PM EST

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United Airlines
United Airlines has decided to honor the free, $5 and $10 tickets that it sold after a human-error.(Photo : Reuters)

A paralyzed war veteran is suing United Airlines and Air Serv Corporation after being severely mistreated during a layover at Chicago O'Hare International Airport nearly two years ago. Former Marine Corps Sergeant Joseph Smith, who was paralyzed from serving in Afghanistan, claims he was injured by airline and airport employees and left to sit in his own urine for two hours.

On Nov. 19, 2010, war veteran Sgt. Smith was headed to Colorado Springs, Colo. from Charlotte, North Carolina for training with the Paralympic shooting team. He had a layover at Chicago O'Hare, where he needed help as he is is wheelchair bound.

When his United flight touched down in Chicago, an Air Serv employee was helping to push him in his wheelchair out of the plane door. Smith told the employee about a gap between the plane and the connecting ramp. The employee continued to push Smith, causing his wheel to get stuck in the gap and resulting in him falling out of his wheelchair and hitting his head on the floor.

"Because of my TBI (traumatic brain injury, also suffered when he was paralyzed), I have slow reflexes and couldn't catch myself," Smith told the High Point Enterprise. He was left with a severe headache and dizziness after the fall.

Smith was helped back into his wheelchair but wasn't offered medical assistance.  No one asked if he was okay.

Smith received further mistreatment when he was boarding his connecting flight. He asked the United flight attendants and Air Serv employees if he could have a special aisle chair that could transport him down the narrow aisle of the plane since his wheelchair was too wide. He never got the aisle chair.

Smith had to drag himself down the aisle of his behind, which caused his catheter bag to rip, leaving him covered in urine. 

"I had urine all over me, so I tried covering myself up," Smith recalled. "People were staring at me - it was humiliating."

Two other Marines who were on the flight didn't know what was going on with Smith until they saw him. They immediately rushed to his aid and helped him to his seat.

Smith had to sit through the flight covered in urine and with his head pounding from the earlier fall. The headache put him int he hospital for two days after he arrived in Colorado.

"They did a CAT scan and an MRI," Smith told HPE. "They were afraid my head was bleeding internally, because I'm on Coumadin (a blood thinner). The doctor said I had a severe concussion and that I might have nerve damage."

As if that wasn't bad enough, Smith was also mistreated by United and Air serv executives on his return flight. He refused to sign a document that they asked him to sign and claims that the executives treated him rudely after his refusal.

Smith is now suing United and Air Serv, claiming negligence against them. The suit seeks $300,000 in damages. The money would go towards his hospital bills and legal fees.

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United Airlines says that Smith's story isn't what they heard.  "Our preliminary review does not corroborate Mr. Smith's version of events," spokeswoman Christen David said.

Smith hasn't received an apology from either company. At one point he was offered a settlement for $20,000, but that wouldn;t even cover his $30,000 hospital bill.

Smith claims that this lawsuit isn't about the money.

"I've been in a war, and if (United and Air Serv) want a war, we can go to war," the 42-year-old veteran said at his home Tuesday morning. "Money is not what this is about. It's about getting things changed for the disabled, because I don't want this to ever happen to anybody else."

He claims that any left over money will go towards several military-related charities. 


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