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Paralyzed veteran sues over treatment at airport

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012 9:27 a.m. CDT

(MCT) — CHICAGO — A former Marine Corps sergeant who was paralyzed while serving in Afghanistan claims he was mistreated at O’Hare International Airport almost two years ago when airline and airport-related employees allegedly injured him and let him sit in his own urine for nearly two hours.

In a lawsuit filed Tuesday in Cook County Circuit Court, Sgt. Joseph Smith, of North Carolina, says United Airlines and Air Serv Corporation employees refused to help him to his seat during a layover in Chicago on Nov. 19, 2010. Smith, who requires a wheelchair to travel after being paralyzed in Operation Enduring Freedom, was headed to Colorado Springs, Colo., for training as part of a Paralympic shooting team, said his lawyer, Alexander Loftus.

Representatives for United Airlines and Air Serv could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday.

The suit seeks $300,000 in damages. It alleges that after Smith’s flight landed in Chicago, an Air Serv employee ignored his warning that the front wheel of his wheelchair was stuck, causing him to fall out of the chair. Smith, 42, struck the left side of his head and suffered a concussion, according to the lawsuit and Loftus.

Though an Air Serv employee helped Smith back into his chair, the veteran wheeled himself to his connecting flight, the suit states. Once he arrived at the gate, United and Air Serv employees allegedly refused to find an aisle chair to transport Smith to his seat in the seventh row or switch his seat on the plane to the first row, according to the lawsuit.

The suit further alleges that Smith dragged his own “limp body” down the aisle, causing his catheter bag to break and spill urine. No one offered to help Smith to his seat or clean the urine, which stayed on Smith for nearly two hours until he arrived in Colorado Springs, according to the lawsuit.

“I would hate to see anyone else treated like this whether they’re a veteran or not,” said Loftus. “This is sort of unconscionable.”

 Loftus said Smith was paralyzed in November 2004 while he was on his fourth deployment.

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