U.S. appeals court revives lawsuit vs United Airlines over wheelchair

SAN FRANCISCO Wed Mar 13, 2013 6:39am EDT

A United Airlines' Boeing Co's 787 Dreamliner plane approaches to land at New Tokyo international airport in Narita, east of Tokyo, on its flight from Los Angeles, January 17, 2013. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

A United Airlines' Boeing Co's 787 Dreamliner plane approaches to land at New Tokyo international airport in Narita, east of Tokyo, on its flight from Los Angeles, January 17, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Toru Hanai

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court on Tuesday revived a lawsuit against United Continental Holdings Inc's United Airlines that was brought by a woman who claimed she was not promptly provided a wheelchair in an airport when she asked for one.

The opinion, from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, said federal law did not pre-empt the woman's personal injury claims under state law.

A representative for United could not immediately be reached for comment.

Mark Meuser, an attorney for plaintiff Michelle Gilstrap, who has difficulty walking, said some lower court judges had disagreed about whether individuals should be able to bring claims for injuries in an airplane or terminal.

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

Gilstrap had difficulty walking due to a collapsed disc in her back and osteoarthritis, according to the court opinion. During two separate plane trips in 2008 and 2009, she alleged that United failed to supply a wheelchair on some occasions.

She also said United agents yelled at her, doubted whether she really needed a wheelchair and ordered her to stand in line, which she could not do because of her condition.

Gilstrap sued, and a Los Angeles federal judge dismissed her case. In Tuesday's three-judge ruling, the 9th Circuit said Gilstrap could not pursue her claims under the Americans for Disabilities Act.

However, the court ruled that Gilstrap's claims, including emotional distress and negligence, under state law were not pre-empted by the Air Carrier Access Act. The appeals court remanded the case for further proceedings.

The case in the 9th Circuit is Michelle Gilstrap vs. United Air Lines Inc., 11-55271.

(Reporting by Dan Levine; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)

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