A disabled US war veteran was pushed from his wheelchair and soaked in his own urine after United Airlines employees refused to help the man to his seat on the plane. The retired Marine has filed a lawsuit for the treatment and injuries he sustained.
Sgt. Joseph Smith, 42, is an Afghanistan War veteran and Paralympian who became paralyzed during his fourth deployment. Bound to a wheelchair, the disabled vet needed assistance while making a connecting flight to Colorado at the Chicago O’Hare Airport. The man was on his way to train for the Paralympic Games.
But the disabled man, who also suffers from a traumatic brain injury, was not given the care he needed. After his first flight landed in Chicago for the layover, an Air Serv employee who was pushing his wheelchair ignored his warning about a gap between the plane and the jetway ramp, causing the wheelchair to get stuck and thrust the man onto the ground. After landing on his head, the disabled vet was later diagnosed with a concussion.
“I have TBI, a traumatic brain injury, and my reflexes are slow, so I couldn’t catch myself. I landed on my head,” Smith told Fox Chicago.
The poor treatment continued when the man made his way to his connecting United Airlines flight, where his wheelchair was too wide to fit through the aisle of the plane. Flight attendants refused to switch his seat to the first row or find an aisle chair to help the man get to his seat, forcing him to crawl there.
While the paralyzed man crawled to his seat, his catheter bag broke, causing the urine to leak all over him. Airline employees further refused to provide help in cleaning up the urine. Smith sat on the two-hour-long flight, drenched in his own urine and embarrassed at the stares he was receiving.
“I had urine all over me, so I tried covering myself up,” he told High Point Enterprise. “People were staring at me – it was humiliating.”
Smith’s attorney, Alexander Loftus, was shocked to hear that even though the man was wearing clothing that identified him as a disabled veteran, no one came to his assistance.
“He always travels wearing his ‘team Semper Fi’ jumpsuit, so not just a handicapped man, but something that everyone knew he was a veteran,” Loftus told Fox Chicago. “And to just leave him to fend for himself, is just outrageous.”
Smith is suing United Airlines and Air Serv for $300,000 to compensate for the physical and emotional damage he sustained. He told High Point Enterprise that he wants to use the money to cover his $30,000 hospital bills and legal fees and to donate to military charities.
“I would hate to see anyone else treated like this whether they’re a veteran or not,” he said. “This is sort of unconscionable.”