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Suit: Paralyzed veteran mistreated by United, O’Hare workers

A paralyzed Afghanistan war veteran is suing United Airlines, claiming he was left hurt and humiliated after airlines employees mistreated him during a 2010 layover at O’Hare Airport.

Joseph Smith and his wife, Deborah, filed the negligence suit Tuesday in Cook County Circuit Court against the airline and Air Serv Corp., a company whose employees assist disabled flyers.

Smith is a retired Marine Corps sergeant confined to a wheelchair because of an injury that paralyzed him while he was serving in Afghanistan, the suit said.

On Nov. 17, 2010, he was traveling from Colorado Springs, Colo., to Charlotte, N.C., as part of Team Semper Fi — a rehabilitative athletic program for wounded soldiers, according to the group’s website.

Smith claims an Air Serv employee was helping him off a United flight when his wheelchair’s front wheels got stuck between the plane and the jetway.

Smith — wearing his team jacket — told the employee to stop pushing but the man continued, dumping Smith out of his wheelchair, the suit claims. He hit his head and was left dizzy and bleeding with a headache, according to the suit.

When he reached his connecting flight, he claims United and Air Serv refused to provide him an aisle chair, a narrow wheelchair used to take handicapped passengers down tight airplane aisles.

Instead, the former sergeant “dragged his limp body down the aisle” to his seat in the seventh row, breaking his catheter bag in the process, according to the suit. He claims no employees offered to help him to his seat, and that he was forced to sit in his own urine for the entire two-hour fight to Charlotte.

The six-count suit seeks at least $300,000 in damages. Smith and his wife claim negligence, negligent infliction of emotional distress and loss of consortium against both United and Air Serv.

United spokesperson Christen David said in an email, “Our preliminary review does not corroborate Mr. Smith’s version of events” but declined to comment further on the pending litigation.

A message left for Air Serv was not immediately returned Tuesday night.

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