Lawsuit Alleges Southwest Airlines Refused To Help Disabled Passenger

A disabled Oregon woman is suing Southwest Airlines, alleging that the carrier declined to help her use the restroom both before her flight left and during the flight.

The refusal to help caused the woman, Katherine E. Muenchow, to wet her pants, she said. Muenchow said stroke-like symptoms have left her paralyzed on her left side.

The suit was filed earlier this month in United States District Court in Portland. Muenchow, 56, alleges that neither Huntleigh USA Corp., which operates wheelchair service at Portland International Airport nor Southwest Airlines helped her to go the bathroom. That, she says, is both negligence and a violation of the Air Carrier Access Act.

“Traveling is a time of great vulnerability for a disabled person who must rely on the assistance and accommodation of others,’’ the lawsuit says. “The flight attendants’ conduct toward plaintiff was outrageous and done with an intent to cause plaintiff severe emotional distress.’’

Muenchow is not seeking financial compensation. She is asking for punitive damages and requests a court order requiring Southwest to institute policies that would avoid a similar circumstance in the future.

Muenchow said she arrived for her May 3 flight three hours early but was not taken to the restroom inside the terminal. An employee told her it was better to use the restroom on the flight, which she could access via a special aisle wheelchair. The lawsuit contends Muenchow tried twice – once before takeoff and again during the flight. She was told flight attendants could not take her to the restroom while passengers were still boarding and, later, during the flight, that they could not take her due to turbulence.

Muenchow said she soiled her pants as a result.

Once the plane landed, a flight crew member took Muenchow to the restroom, but the door wouldn’t close and she was in full view of passengers who were exiting the plane.

Muenchow was “wet, cold, smelled of urine, and was utterly humiliated,’’ according to the lawsuit.

Southwest Airlines declined to comment on the pending litigation.

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