United Airlines to pay $30m after quadriplegic man suffered brain damage in ‘violent’ removal from plane

United Airlines has agreed to a $30 million settlement following an incident where a quadriplegic man, Nathaniel Foster Jr (known as N.J.), was left in a vegetative state after disembarking from a United Express flight in 2019. The settlement was disclosed in San Francisco federal court after a single day of trial.

N.J., who used a wheelchair and medical equipment, was treated improperly during the deplaning process. A ramp supervisor forcefully pushed him, causing his body to jerk and slump, with his feet dragging on the floor. Despite his mother’s plea for help after hearing him say “I can’t breathe,” gate agents failed to provide appropriate assistance. Subsequently, N.J. experienced cardiac arrest and sustained severe brain damage.

The settlement amount requires court approval and is considered “fair and reasonable” by the plaintiffs. N.J., now 26, is unable to speak or consume solid foods, with significant brain damage. He is expected to live until around age 31.5, down from his projected lifespan of 39 before the incident.

United Airlines stated their commitment to passenger safety, particularly for those requiring assistance, and expressed satisfaction that the matter has been resolved. The settlement includes around $12 million for legal fees and $3 million for other costs.

N.J.’s family, who has been providing care in California, has not yet commented on the settlement. The legal case is titled Foster et al v United Airlines Inc et al and was filed in the U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, under case number 19-02530.

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