Published on Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Man sues airlines following wife's death

A passenger whose wife died after she was unable to board a flight home because she had apparently put on too much weight during her holiday has filed a law suit against Delta, KLM and Lufthansa.

Lawyers acting on behalf of Janos Soltesz are accusing the airlines of gross negligence.

Vilma Soltesz, who weighed over 400 pounds, had one leg and used a wheelchair, had flown to her native Hungary from the US on Delta and KLM.  She had apparently gained additional weight while in Hungary and was unable to board her Delta/KLM flight home for medical treatment for kidney problems and diabetes because the aircraft did not have a large enough seat extension.

The couple were allegedly told to drive to Prague to try and board another flight that did have seat extensions. Once in Prague, Soltesz could not be transferred to the flight because equipment could not be found to hold her weight.

Their US travel agent found them another flight with Lufthansa, via Frankfurt, but the aircraft had the same issue and could not transfer Soltesz into the aircraft.  A local fire crew were brought in to help, but they were unable to lift her from her wheelchair. 

Soltesz died while waiting in Prague to board another flight.

Delta, KLM and Lufthansa issued statements explaining their reasons for being unable to accommodate her.

Lufthansa said: "Lufthansa, together with its local partners, fire brigade and technical experts at Budapest Airport, tried its utmost to accommodate this passenger on board our flight from Budapest.

"After several, time consuming attempts it was decided that for the safety of this passenger and the over 140 fellow passengers, Lufthansa had to deny transportation of the passenger. Safe and reliable operations are Lufthansa's paramount priorities at all times."

Delta said,:"Delta and KLM did everything possible to assist the family. When KLM was unable to safely board Mrs Soltesz in Budapest, it was determined she might be able to fly on the larger Delta aircraft out of Prague, but unfortunately that was not the case.

"Our records indicate Delta staff in Prague made repeated attempts for nearly an hour to board the customer, but they were unable to get her onboard the aircraft."

The lawsuit, filed by the Manhattan lawfirm of Ronai and Ronai, alleges various counts of gross negligence, recklessness and willful misconduct in the boarding and disembarking of Soltesz.

Attorney Holly Ostrov Ronai said: "The airlines were informed well in advance of Vilma's condition and undertook a duty to get Vilma home. In forcing her to go from airline to airline, get on and off several planes and drive to another airport in a different country, the airlines not only failed in their duty to get her home, but gravely injured her.

"What is quite telling is that Mr. Soltesz had a tiny little Suzuki car and was forced to drive his wife from the Budapest airport to the airport in Prague. He got Vilma into his tiny little car all by himself, yet the airlines couldn't manage to get Vilma into a huge aircraft."

Attorney Peter Ronai added: "Vilma Soltesz' death was completely preventable. She died because the airlines simply did not want to be bothered or inconvenienced.

"They merely needed to have the proper standard equipment, such as a skylift and wheelchair, to get her onboard and seated, but instead they shirked their responsibility and passed the buck."

The lawsuit, which was filed on Monday in federal court in Manhattan, will be served on the defendant airlines within the next two weeks.

Delta Airlines spokesman Russell Cason said: "We believe the suit is entirely without merit. After the operating carrier in Budapest was physically unable to board Mrs. Soltesz on its flight, and despite a determined good-faith effort by Delta in Prague, we were also physically unable to board her on our aircraft on Oct. 16.  Delta employees did everything possible to assist the Soltesz family with their travel, but unfortunately Mrs. Soltesz' physical condition was such that she was unable to be boarded on the aircraft."

By TravelMole US editor Gretchen Kelly

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  • There is a limit...

    ...as to what airlines and other principals can do. This woman was nearly 30 stone. Where do you draw the line as to what weight is simply too much weight. If 28 stone is OK then how about 29 stone - or 30 stone - or 40 stone - or 50 stone. As with any variable - be it weight, height, age, fitness or any other characteristic there must be a limit and this woman was over that limit. The airlines tried hard to accommodate someone of over twice the average weight and could have done no more. To sue them for being unable to accede to an extraordinary request for carriage is not reasonable.

    By Richard English, Tuesday, February 5, 2013

  • A Big Ask

    It doesnt really matter how or why this woman was grossly obese, we are where we are and to blame the airlines in these circumstances is frankly ridiculous and shows the awful state of America and its lawyers. If she had a serious weight gain before check in how could the Airlines plan for it, which sounds to be the case. Sad ending to this story but they really should have had the wit to realise this was a big ask.

    By paul howgate, Tuesday, February 5, 2013

  • Please stop assigning blame

    I agree that if the airlines really tried to help her board as they claimed, then they are not at fault. However, for everyone to then go on to assign the blame to the man and woman just shows the extreme that our culture of blame has gone. We have no idea why the woman was overweight, so please don't judge.

    By Kevin Baughman, Tuesday, February 5, 2013

  • total lack of responsiblity

    If she was in such poor health she would have died on the plane, possibly even over the Atlantic. Her health was going to risk others for comfort and safety. If she was so ill she should have went into a hospital in Prague or Vienna. I am shocked that her husband is blaming everyone else - this is complete negligence on his part to help her become healthier away from the US (or watch her health) not heavier.

    By christina ernst, Tuesday, February 5, 2013

  • I Agree

    I agree with Iain, It's unfortunate this lady died and I can understand her husband's sadness but why should everyone else take the blame? Airlines, especially in the US, are very conscience to the risk of being sued, so I am sure they did all they could to accommodate this lady but at almost 29 stone, where should the responsibility really lie??

    By Keith Standen, Tuesday, February 5, 2013

  • Oh Dear Too

    The previous comment seems reasonable. Also since the passenger put on weight during the holiday (which must have exacerbated the problem of boarding her) it could be argued that she actively contributed to the situation and her husband also. Three airline unable to board her says it all. Blame culture gone crazy indeed.

    By John Barrington-Carver, Tuesday, February 5, 2013

  • oh dear

    I don't mean to sound unsympathetic, but I find this quite ludicrous. If the airlines really did make the efforts they say they did then you really have to ask yourself 'where does the responsibility lie?' Blame culture gone mad in my opinion.

    By Iain Webster, Tuesday, February 5, 2013

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