United Airlines in $30 million settlement with quadriplegic man's family

FILE PHOTO: Boeing 767-322ER aircraft of United Airlines takes off from Zurich Airport near Ruemlang

By Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) - United Airlines has agreed to a $30 million settlement after a deplaning incident left a quadriplegic man in a vegetative state, court papers show.

The settlement with the family of Nathaniel Foster Jr, known as N.J., was disclosed on Tuesday in San Francisco federal court, and reached after one day of trial.

It arose from the treatment of Foster, who had been using a wheelchair, ventilator and tracheal tube, as he and his family were disembarking from a Feb. 8, 2019 United Express flight to Monroe, Louisiana, where they had traveled to attend a funeral.

The family said a ramp supervisor "aggressively" and "forcefully" pushed Foster, causing his body to jerk forward and then slouch back, with his feet dragging along the floor.

According to a complaint, Foster's mother sought help after she heard him whisper "I can't breathe," but a gate agent "giggled" and told a surgeon who offered help "we got this," prompting him to sit down. Foster then went into cardiac arrest.

Now 26, Foster has "significant" brain damage, cannot speak or eat solid foods, and is expected to live to age 31-1/2, down from 39 before the incident, court papers show.

The settlement requires court approval, and is "fair and reasonable" according to the plaintiffs. They have been caring for Foster at their home in Pleasant Hill, California.

"Our top priority is to provide a safe journey for all our customers, especially those who require additional assistance or the use of a wheelchair," United said in a statement Wednesday. "We are pleased to share that this matter has settled."

Lawyers for Foster's family did not immediately respond to requests for comment. About $12 million from the settlement would cover legal fees, and $3 million would cover other costs.

The case is Foster et al v United Airlines Inc et al, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, No. 19-02530.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York, Editing by Nick Zieminski)