Friday, September 13, 2013

Gleason v. United Airlines: Peanuts on Planes

As much as people like to complain about the legal system and perceived frivolous lawsuits, our legal system is one of the greatest ways to make changes for the better in this country.  All kinds of civil rights movements have started from lawsuits, whether successful or not.  Food allergies are now starting to surface in more lawsuits and I think we will see a shift in laws as a result of these suits in the next 5 years.

One of the suits I have been watching for about 4 months is the Gleason v. United Airlines case.  Alisa Gleason brought filed a complaint against United Airlines in the Eastern District of California (case no. 13-01064) after she suffered an allergic reaction to peanuts in flight and the flight needed to make an emergency landing in order for her to get treated for her full blown anaphylactic reaction.

Alisa has a severe peanut allergy.  According to her complaint, Alisa called United Airlines' customer service prior to purchasing her ticket to ask whether accommodations would be made for her peanut allergy if she travelled on the airline.  She claims that she then purchased the ticket from Orland to Sacramento.  She alleges that the United Airlines customer service agent told her to tell the agent at the ticket counter about her allergy and then the allergy would be accommodated, including an announcement to the other passengers that a passenger has a severe peanut allergy. 

Alisa claims that when she arrived at the ticket counter, she informed the agent of her peanut allergy, but the agent told her to remind the head flight attendant aboard her flight of her severe peanut allergy and that her condition would need to be accommodated.  Then she says she told the head flight attendant of her allergy and requested a peanut free flight, but the flight attendant told her that no announcement regarding the allergy would be made.  The reason she was given was that United Airlines could not accommodate every kind of allergy.  Alisa claims that the head flight attendant did tell her that no peanut products would be distributed in the flight, so she remained on the flight.

Alisa alleges that one hour in to the flight she began to experience difficulty breathing and swallowing and administered the Epi-pen.  Her condition then rapidly deteriorated and she lapsed in and out of consciousness.  Another passenger alerted the flight crew to Alisa's condition and told them that she would not survive the remaining 45 minutes of the flight.  The flight then made an emergency landing in Missouri where Alisa was transported to the hospital.

Stories in the press covering this incident claim that there was a woman who was eating peanuts and that she would not have eaten them if she knew there was another passenger with a peanut allergy.

United so far denies the allegations, but says it is still investigating.  The complaint was filed in May 2013 and probably won't go to trial until 2014.    Alisa has demanded a jury trial.

If this suit makes it to trial, it could determine what, if any, accommodations an airline must make for travelers with severe allergies. 

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