SPOKANE, Wash. — The family of a Spokane, Wash. woman is suing Alaska Airlines and another company in connection with the woman's fall down a Portland International Airport escalator in June.
The woman died four months after the fall, and family members allege that neglect at the airport contributed to her injuries.
According to the wrongful death lawsuit, filed earlier this week in King County Superior Court, Bernice Kekona, 75, was traveling from Hawaii to Spokane with a transfer of planes in Portland.
The grandmother was disabled with an amputated leg and other health issues.
At the Portland airport, while trying to get to the gate to her connecting flight, she fell down an escalator, resulting in significant injuries that led to her death, the suit states.
The suit also names Huntleigh USA, which contracts with Alaska Airlines to help assist passengers in transit. Kekona's family said that they had requested gate-to-gate service for their mother, who was disabled and needed wheelchair assistance.
According to the complaint, Huntleigh USA gate agents met Kekona as she deplaned in Portland and provided her a wheelchair ride to the top of the skybridge. She then was left alone and became confused, leading her to tumble in her wheelchair down an escalator, an incident captured on surveillance video.
Kekona was assisted by emergency workers after her fall and was transported to a Portland hospital for treatment. In September, she entered a Spokane hospital and for care of a leg wound, caused, her lawyers contend, by the initial Portland airport fall. She died two weeks later.
Federal law requires that airlines assist disabled passengers in transit. Alaska Airlines confirmed that Kekona received initial assistance but said she declined additional aid while navigating through the Portland airport.
In a statement to KREM 2 Alaska Airlines issued the following response:
"We're heartbroken by this tragic and disturbing incident. We don't have all the facts, but after conducting a preliminary investigation, it appears that Ms. Kekona declined ongoing assistance in the terminal and decided to proceed on her own to her connecting flight. After landing in Portland, Ms. Kekona was assisted into her own motorized scooter by an airport consortium wheelchair service provider Huntleigh. Once in the concourse, she went off on her own."
KREM 2 spoke with Brook Cunningham, the attorney representing Bernice Kekona's family. Cunningham responded to Alaska Airlines statement about Kekona declining assistance. He said, "That didn't occur." He said Kekona's recollection of the day did remain consistent and she was "abandoned" after being "told where to go."