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Judge revives case against United Airlines over wheelchair

Disabled woman claims the airline refused to provide her with assistance

A judge has revived a case that a disabled woman brought against United Airlines claiming the company’s employees refused her a wheelchair.

Yesterday, the 9th Circuit said federal law did not preempt Michelle Gilstrap’s personal injury claims under state law. A federal judge had previously dismissed the case.

Gilstrap, who has difficulty walking due to a collapsed disc in her back and osteoarthritis, said on two separate incidents in 2008 and 2009 United airplane and terminal workers either refused to give her a wheelchair or did not promptly provide her with one. She claims in her suit they yelled at her, questioned her need for a wheelchair and made her stand in a line, which she was unable to do.

Gilstrap’s lawyer Mark Meuser said some lower courts have disagreed about whether plaintiffs can bring claims for damages suffered in airplanes or in terminals, citing the Air Carrier Access Act. But the 9th Circuit said the act doesn’t preempt these claims, which include emotional distress and negligence.

"This is a really big deal for disabled Americans across the country," Meuser told Thomson Reuters.

United, however, said in an email to Thomson Reuters that it’s "strongly committed to providing equal treatment and quality service to our disabled customers."

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Cathleen Flahardy

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