An Afghanistan War veteran and Paralympian is suing United Airlines and an airport contractor for allegedly causing him injury and, he says, to make sure no other person with a disability has to suffer the same pain and humiliation.
Sgt. Joseph Smith, 42, a former Marine who became paralyzed during his fourth deployment in Afghanistan, filed a lawsuit Tuesday against United Airlines and Air Serv for allegedly causing him injury and forcing him to sit in his own urine, the Chicago Tribune reports.
The incident allegedly occurred at Chicago's O’Hare Airport two years ago, when Smith was making a connecting flight to Colorado to train for the Paralympics. Smith told High Point Enterprise that when his flight from Charlotte landed in O’Hare for a layover, an Air Serv employee pushed his wheelchair from the plane, but didn't heed to Smith's warnings of a gap between the plane and the jetway ramp. Smith claims the wheelchair got stuck and he tumbled out and hit his head. Doctors eventually diagnosed him with a concussion.
"I have a 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.
But he says the agony didn’t stop there.
When Smith wheeled his way to his connecting United Airlines flight, his chair was too wide to make it through the plane's aisle, according to Fox Chicago. He asked for help, but the flight attendants declined, and Smith crawled to his seat, causing his catheter bag to break and leak urine, according to the Chicago Tribune. Smith says he sat through the remainder of the flight drenched.
“I had urine all over me, so I tried covering myself up,” Smith told High Point Enterprise. “People were staring at me -- it was humiliating.”
"He always travels wearing his 'team Semper Fi' jumpsuit, so not just a handicapped man, but something that everyone knew he was a veteran," Smith's attorney, Alexander Loftus, told Fox Chicago. "And to just leave him to fend for himself, is just outrageous."
The suit seeks $300,000 in damages, according to the Tribune.
Smith says he’s not interested in making any money. He told High Point Enterprise that he just wants to cover his hospital bills -- which have hit $30,000 -- and legal fees and to give some money to military charities.