'She stepped into her coffin': Relatives of passenger who died on flight sue American Airlines

The parents and widower of a South Carolina newlywed who died during an American Airlines flight are suing the carrier, alleging wrongful death.

Brittany Oswell, 25, of Lexington, S.C., suffered a pulmonary embolism and cardiac arrest during a flight in April 2016 from Hawaii to South Carolina, with a connection in Dallas, according to the case filed in U.S. District Court. She was declared brain dead three days after the flight and taken off life-support equipment at Baylor Medical Center, the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit alleges that medical equipment aboard the plane didn’t work and that the crew ignored pleas from a doctor, who tried to help Oswell, to make an emergency landing before reaching Dallas.

"When Brittany got on the plane, she stepped into her coffin," Brad Cranshaw, a lawyer representing the woman’s husband, Cory Oswell, and parents, Christopher and Tina Starks, told The State newspaper. "It's a tragedy."

The airline hasn’t formally responded to the 12-page lawsuit filed April 18. But the company issued a statement: "We take the safety of our passengers very seriously and we are looking into the details of the complaint."

Medical emergencies occur about once every 604 flights, according to a 2013 study in the New England Journal of Medicine of 11,920 emergencies from 2008 to 2010. The most common ailments were loss of consciousness, respiratory problems, nausea or vomiting.

Physician passengers provided assistance is nearly half (48%) of the emergencies, according to the study. Flights diverted for emergency landings in 7.3% cases, according to the study.

“Few in-flight medical emergencies resulted in diversion of aircraft or death; one-fourth of passengers who had an in-flight medical emergency underwent additional evaluation in a hospital,” the study said.

The Federal Aviation Administration requires airliners to carry equipment including an automated defibrillator to shock a person’s heart back into regular rhythm, CPR masks to assist breathing and an IV set to administer medicine. The emergency medical kit should also contain aspirin, dextrose for diabetics, epinephrine for allergic reactions and nitroglycerine for heart problems.

Flight attendants are trained in CPR. Congress approved legislation in 1998 to protect Good Samaritans aboard flights from lawsuits if they help an ill passenger.

But the lawsuit for Oswell alleges a series of problems aboard the American Airlines flight.

About three hours after departing Honolulu, Oswell became dizzy and disoriented. Her husband paged flight attendants, who saw her slurring her speech before she fainted.

A doctor on board examined Oswell and she regained consciousness. The doctor initially thought she had a panic attack and didn’t administer oxygen.

A couple of hours later, Oswell went to lavatory, where she collapsed, vomited and defecated on herself.

The doctor was summoned again and he allegedly urged the crew to land at the nearest airport such as Albuquerque for medical care, according to the lawsuit.

Flight attendants brought Oswell to the galley, where she received oxygen. The doctor tried to take Oswell’s blood pressure, but one cuff registered an error and the other was broken, according to the lawsuit.

Later, Oswell’s pulse stopped and the doctor and flight attendants tried to apply the defribrillator. But no shock was administered despite three attempts, according to the lawsuit.

The doctors and flight attendants took turns administering cardio-pulmonary resuscitation.

The flight didn’t divert and landed in Dallas about two hours after the lavatory incident, according to the lawsuit.

“We absolutely felt like this was not taken very seriously,” Tina Starks told ABC News. “She’s no longer here to do anything with us and it’s all because someone made a business decision to keep flying a plane when she needed emergency medical help that they could not provide because of inadequacies on board the flight."

 

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