Bayou City

United Airlines Passenger in Houston Says Airline Hurt Her, Crushed Her Wheelchair

United Airlines Passenger in Houston Says Airline Hurt Her, Crushed Her Wheelchair
Flickr/Tomás Del Coro
Another day, another scandal for United Airlines.

Workers aboard a United flight were helping a disabled woman, Erica Fulton, into her airplane seat when they dropped her against a window, injuring her so badly that she required surgery, a lawsuit alleges. The incident occurred in September 2016 at Bush Intercontinental Airport.

The lawsuit also names the Houston Airport System, Houston Intercontinental Airport, Air Serv Corporation and the anonymous Air Serv employee as defendants. The case was filed last November in Harris County Court. United and Air Serv successfully lobbied in February to have the case moved to federal court.

Sean Roberts, the attorney for the injured Fulton, criticized the request for a change of court as a “stall tactic.”

“It flies in the face of United’s recent pledge to treat all passengers with ‘the deepest sense of dignity and respect,’” Roberts said, quoting a promise made by United CEO Oscar Munoz in April after a viral video showed a passenger being dragged off of an overbooked United flight.

“What went wrong should have been fixed immediately,” Roberts added. “It wasn’t.”

Fulton, a Florida resident, was headed from Tampa Bay to Austin when she stopped in Houston for a brief layover. She left the airport with an injured neck and a torn rotator cuff in her right shoulder, according to the lawsuit.

It’s unclear how Fulton was injured so badly. But she will “require surgery and medical treatment into the future,” according to the lawsuit.

Fulton, 54, suffers from a degenerative spinal disease that requires her to get around in a motorized wheelchair. That wheelchair was also harmed during the kerfuffle. A damaged baggage report, filed by United Airlines, describes it as “crushed.”

"This was truly a flight from hell and United has not even as much apologized — much less try to make this right," Fulton said.

tweet this
Now, Fulton is demanding unspecified damages not to exceed $1,000,000. By failing to properly train its employees or care for Fulton, United and the other defendants acted negligently, the lawsuit argues.

Not only did United completely destroy my wheelchair, but also permanently damaged the arm I use to operate
my wheelchair and perform basic daily activities," Fulton said in a statement to the Houston Press. "This was truly a flight from hell and United has not even as much apologized — much less try to make this right."

The suit also seeks information on the identity of the anonymous Air Serv employee who injured Fulton — information that neither United nor Air Serv has released.

Air Serv did not respond to a request for comment. From Charles Hobart, a spokesman for United:

"We hold all of our vendors to high standards and strive to provide great service to all of our customers. We sincerely apologize to Ms. Fulton for her experience while traveling with us and have covered the cost of the repair to the wheelchair."

United Airlines has been in hot water recently. The company received extensive public backlash in April after police officers dragged a passenger from an overbooked United Airlines flight.

That man, doctor and Kentucky resident David Dao, reached a settlement with United later that month for an undisclosed amount. United pledged to improve its customer service in the future.
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Stephen Paulsen is a journalist and native Houstonian. He writes about crime, food, drugs, urban planning and extremists of all kinds. He covers local news for Houston Press and cannabis policy for Leafly.