In 2017, 75-year-old Bernice Kekona was traveling home from Hawaii to Spokane via Alaska Airlines, with a connecting flight in Portland. Kekona was an amputee and used a wheelchair, and her family had repeatedly requested and confirmed gate-to-gate transportation for her connecting flight. But due to a miscommunication between the airline and their contractor, no gate-to-gate transport was provided. Kekona attempted to make the trip herself, ultimately falling down 21 steps on an airport escalator in her wheelchair – a horrific incident captured on surveillance video.
Kekona’s injuries included trauma to her head and chest and escalator marks on her face, but the most significant was an Achilles tendon injury that led to septic infection. After three months of a painful and ultimately unsuccessful recovery process, doctors finally amputated her remaining leg, and she died the day after the surgery from overwhelming infection.
Kekona’s relatives sought justice for her death and filed a suit against Alaska Airlines, for which Robert Gellatly and Deborah Martin served as co-counsel.
The court rejected an earlier move by Alaska to dismiss the case. Throughout legal proceedings, the airline repeatedly tried to lay blame solely on Kekona herself, despite the fact that employees disregarded the family’s arrangements and the company’s own safety protocols in allowing a disabled septuagenarian to venture off alone.
In February 2021, a King County Superior Court jury rendered a $3.19 million verdict in favor of the family. In its verdict, the jury found the airline 90 percent responsible for the injuries that led to Kekona’s death, which Gellatly said he hopes will bring a measure of closure to the Kekona family.
Read more about the case:
Alaska Airlines loses $3.2M lawsuit linked to deadly airport wheelchair crash (Puget Sound Business Journal)