25-year-old Gaby Assouline has passed away after an extended hospital battle which began after she fell off her wheelchair while boarding a Southwest Airlines flight. Her family claims Southwest Airlines was negligent. But did Assouline assume the risk by declining boarding assistance?
Family Sues Southwest Airlines, Alleges Wheelchair Accident Killed Their Daughter
Before I go further, I wish to express my supreme condolences to the family of Ms. Assouline. What a horrible loss. What a tragic way to die.
In short, Assouline has a rare condition called Fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva (FOP) which turns muscle tissue into bone.
While boarding a Southwest Airlines flight in February 2022 in Fort Lauderdale with her electric mobility scooter, Assouline reportedly declined assistance from G2, Southwest’s contractor for passengers needing wheelchair assurance, and proceeded down the jet bridge herself.
But when she hit an uneven surface, she lurched off the wheelchair, falling onto the jet bridge floor and fractured her vertebrae.
She spent the next 11 months in an intensive care unit, breathing through a ventilator, until the ventilator was unplugged last month and she passed away.
The family initially sued Southwest Airlines in March 2022 on negligence grounds and can now update its lawsuit to include a wrongful death complaint, even as thier daughter was functionally dead (breathing via respirator and in a coma) for nearly a year. Southwest contended in court papers that Assouline refused assistance.
Does The Family Have A Case Against Southwest?
I’ve read the complaint.
Part of me cannot blame the family for seeking to cash in on this traffic accident in our litigious-friendly, ambulance-chasing US culture. They will probably net a lucrative settlement from Southwest just to make this go away.
And of course no amount of money can bring their daughter back or act a replacement.
But Southwest says that Assouline refused assistance while boarding, stating that she could board on her own. Thus, practical questions include:
- Was Southwest (and its contractor handling passengers with wheelchairs) reasonable in allowing Assouline to go down the jet bridge herself? What duty of care did it have?
- Would a reasonable wheelchair user have anticipated and seen the uneven surface of a junction in the airbridge? Was the jetway inherently dangerous?
- Was there a superseding cause in the hospital or a pre-existing condition that better explains her death?
- What blame does the airport share, if any at all, for installing and maintaining the jet bridges?
An amusement park cannot just eliminate its legal liability for a roller coaster flying off the tracks and killing you by having you sign a waiver. Here, was Southwest even in a position to grant Assouline a waiver?
What are the societal consequences of allowing defendants to assume the risk but then sue as if they had not?
This tragic case presents a number of questions that are not so black and white. What occurred is horrible. But should Southwest Airlines be on the hook for it? While I expect this case to settle early on, it will be a fascinating case to follow.
(H/T: Paddle Your Own Kanoo)
People doing what they do best: blame others for their incompetence and go after $$$$. Question: is the airline responsible for the jet bridge or that is part of the airport? She didn’t fall inside a Southwest plane but on the jet bridge that I assume belongs to the airport.
It seems at some airports the airline owns its own jet bridges, at others it leases them or shares them with other airlines.
This walks a tightrope of allowing independence for the “differently abled” or whatever the term de jour is for “handicapped”, and avoiding suits like this by enforcing a rule that anyone with mobility issues cannot decline assistance. Where do we snap the chalk line?
I’m not handicapped but have been in a few situations recently where I was mobility impaired due to a medical procedure or an injury. For one I was on crutches and for another I was suffering from extreme fatigue that may walking a chore and tired me out significantly. I absolutely accepted assistance because I knew it was not only going to be helpful for me as a recovering patient, but it was absolutely the right thing to do as a version of CYA so I didn’t get hurt – not even considering what the airline may be “liable” for. This is a very sad story but airplanes and jetways are NOT designed for the mobility impaired. Full stop. And if you decline assistance, you’re assuming the risk that shit could go sideways. Full stop, again. I’m so tired of hearing stories that boil down to, “I made a bad decision. I fucked around and found out. Now I’m upset at everyone that tried to help me for not being MORE insistent that I take their help.”
The linked court document only has one page at present. Does it show who owns the jet bridge? This case is messy.
People In. Wheelchairs should t be allowed on airplanes.
Depends on what state this took place as some liberal states will give the family millions..Should she have been traveling alone??.With her pre-existing severe illness what would her life expectancy be???
It seems her mother was there at the airport and took her as FAs as the gate, but not onboard.
What do “states – liberal or otherwise — have to do with pay-outs? It is the INSURER who pays out … in this case, the insurer for Southwest … some people, with little articulate to say, revert to politics to claim a position …
Politics and ideology of freedom have everything to do with it. If we are talking about state laws, some states give schemers and people that cause their own injuries the ability to manipulate the court system for their benefit at the expense of people or parties that did nothing or no wrong. The political party of the judge matters as appointed or elected judges will either support freedom or support tyranny and government micromanaging of our lives and businesses. The venue matters and if a case is tried in a liberal city with a liberal jury pool the verdict or award may be different than if in a venue of respectable citizens who support freedom and oppose tyranny.
Yea a true republican would be like Greg Abbott. Get a multi million dollar settlement then become governor and change the law so nobody else can get one
says the head salami slurper
Your might have a typo – “Assouline reportedly declined assurance from G2, Southwest’s contractor for passengers needing wheelchair assurance, and proceeded down the jet bridge herself.” Should “assurance” be “assistance?”
If people were rational, there would be one clear outcome. All an operator or owner of any platform, ride, or walkway has to do is ensure it is designed safe where a reasonable person would not get injured except through their excessive carelessness or excessive horsing around. People who have a disability need special assistance and overwatch for certain things like the jet bridge. The 25 year old woman denying assistance means the onus is on her for any injury. I believe in a world where people can judge for themselves what risks they want to take. A person able to take a flight by herself and make decisions for herself knows going down a ramp way, stairs, getting into and out of a vehicle, bus, or etc has more risk than for a normal person. The woman decided she didn’t want help and assumed responsibility for any injury. She misjudged the ability to ride or drive her wheelchair safely. Companies and ultimately their shareholders and customers shouldn’t have to pay for people being foolish or making risky choices.
People are not rational unfortunately. If I was called for this jury if I lived in the district and was lucky enough to get selected by answering questions as neutral as possible, I’d vote for the defense, although, I would hate to waste my jury time on a civil trial instead of a criminal one where I could vote down and nullify drug laws, gun control, taxes, or etc. It makes no sense why any convictions are possible for any of these things when there is at least one Republican on any jury. Unfortunately, most are naive and doorposts who don’t realize they don’t have to listen to what a judge tells them but can vote down a law they don’t support or agree with. Being a juror has absolute power to say no to bad laws despite what a judge says. A rational Republican would say to himself: is a person guilty of fabricating Covid vaccine cards because the government we don’t support criminalizes that; of course not. If we don’t support govt mandates for vaccines and vaccine cards we don’t find someone guilty for being creative to get around what we don’t support criminalized. Only non thinkers would vote to convict for laws they don’t support or want enforced.
Tragic SWA issue aside, you have made fascinating points here, especially in the second paragraph and many points that most probably have never considered. However, I also wonder how your points would apply to a juror on the OJ Simpson and Casey Anthony, for example. It’s a complex topic to think through.
My wife just sat on a civil case jury 2 months ago and enjoyed it immensely. I educated her as to her juror rights beforehand. She made an educated decision for the plaintiff since they had been clearly negligent.
I don’t think civil cases require a full majority in some states so a single one may not be able to override a “bad” jury sacking a corporation with deep pockets. The problem is that many Americans, including from generations that really out to be better educated, aren’t. They fall for bias introduced from either the defense attorney, prosecutor, or even the judge. It’s not perfect but one hopes that at least there’s some in the jury who can’t be fooled. There’s a training book “Reptile” for trial attorneys to pull out more money from deep pockets that costs thousands of dollars USED supposedly used to sway juries.
“You educated your wife”???? How very manly of you.
Mr. Dog ass,
I believe this falls under the category of an accident. Why do you need to inject your republican ideology into the conversation where it doesn’t belong? It is ridiculous and your seriously flawed biased belief system doesn’t belong here. Save it for a MAGA rally. No one wants to hear that crap.
“ And of course no amount of money can bring their daughter back or act a replacement”
Agree with the first, disagree with the 2nd. Spending the money they eventually settle for will be a fine replacement for all the responsibility she created for the family. Otherwise what is the point of the lawsuit? They aren’t doing it to make things better for others, they are looking to cash in on a tragedy. It’s (sadly) the American Way.
Don’t be naive. You won’t find some idyllic place in America that with some magical jury that “supports freedom and opposes tyranny”. You just get a different flavor of tyranny jammed down your throat.
I don’t understand how this was possible. In 2021, I pushed my mom through Houston Hobby in a Southwest wheelchair, and the gate agent explained that she was required to manually bring my mom down the jetway and get her to the airplane entrance. So, I just wonder why the agent even allowed this person on the jetway. It’s not like any type of electric scooter could be gate checked.
I’ve always had the same experience as well. Everytime my mother is in the airline wheelchair, I ask the porters if I can take her on my own through the airport (since porters sometimes take time and you cannot wonder the airport with them). While they let me do it in the airport, I have never been allowed to push my mother in the jetbridge.
Lauds to Mr Klint for not drawing conclusions. Thanks for the pretty straightforward reporting. Wish’s this the family, and frankly all the ops people on duty. Guilty in a court or not, there’s emotion scars for all.
If you are unfit to fly then there should be federal guidelines for this so Airlines aren’t left on their own to decide. Secondly if someone is this delicate the person should be handled like a minor child flying, pay a fee and be taken care of from gate to gate. As much as we would like to see everyone accommodated there are some situations that just don’t work, or need severe improvement.
She was offered assistance, she declined. Her mother was present up to the gate (multiple references in other articles) so it’s reasonable to assume her mother was present when she declined assistance. That’s two adults, without obvious mental deficiencies, involved in the decision to not receive assistance offered.
Airport passenger boarding bridge or jet bridge conditions can vary but there are guidelines from FAA on this. For example: https://www.faa.gov/documentLibrary/media/Advisory_Circular/AC_150_5220-21C.pdf
That means, even a compliant jet bridge can have “steps” and slopes. When seated facing forward (direction of travel) on a wheeled transport, a small step along a slight slope is enough to bump the passenger off the seat even when going as slowly as a person’s regular walking pace (2.5-4mph according to the CDC).
Powered wheelchairs/scooters commonly max out at 5mph for safety and cost but some can go as high as 10mph. There are also high powered options that can exceed 30mph. Even at a conservative 3mph, going down an ADA compliant ramp, you can still get bumped off your seat and possibly fall out completely when going over a step while going down a slope. That’s why you sometimes see airport wheelchair assistance operators wheel passengers down ramps facing backwards.
These are facts, though not the whole picture and certainly missing context of the incident. Ignore political parties, personal experiences, sympathies, etc… for a minute. Pretend you are a Vulcan and operate purely on logic for just that minute. Who’s responsible for this event? It’s all good to want to help the family, improve accessibility infrastructure/equipment, etc… but how about keeping facts and emotions/ideologies separate first? You can always follow-up with whatever help or criticism you believe is appropriate later.
Passengers in wheelchairs are always wheeled down the jetway facing backwards, for their safety. Southwest has only partial fault here in that they should have insisted the passenger be wheeled down by the contractor or gate agent. The family bears some responsibility as well. This is a garbage lawsuit
Your supreme condolences??? You might want to have a Roget’s by your side when writing. Perhaps an editor; I don’t think ‘traffic’ should be used in place of ‘tragic’. This tragedy is such a good example of greed and avarice. If she refused assistance, her wishes were followed. Thousands of people use jetways to board aircraft without problems … there are all kinds of uneven surfaces in every one. Perhaps they should sue the scooter that didn’t properly negotiate the jetway’s surface? Oh, probably not, they don’t have as much money as SouthWest and the FTL Airport Commission. The family should be ashamed of themselves for filing a lawsuit and hoping to line their pockets.