A jury rendered a $3.19 million verdict in favor of the family of Bernice Kekona. The elderly and disabled passenger suffered fatal injuries when she fell down an escalator while in her wheelchair after Alaska Airlines failed to provide gate-to-gate transportation—which had been requested and confirmed five times—to a connecting flight in 2017. The verdict against Alaska was handed down Monday, February 22, 2021 in King County Superior Court.
“Bernice Kekona was the victim of a tragic failure by Alaska to provide basic services between their flights,” said Robert Gellatly of Luvera Law Firm, who represented the Kekona family. “Alaska failed Bernice miserably, and the company has continued to wield the legal system like a weapon to blame Bernice, evade responsibility, and undermine her grieving family in the most hurtful ways.”
The jury sided with the relatives of 75-year-old Kekona, an amputee and disabled passenger, who was traveling home from Hawaii to Spokane, and had scheduled assistance traveling between gates at the Portland International Airport. When the escorts her family arranged left Kekona alone due to miscommunications between Alaska and its contractor, she 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.
“Passenger consumers trust that airlines will provide basic services in keeping with safety regulations, and Alaska really dropped the ball in taking simple steps to ensure Mrs. Kekona’s well-being,” said Brook Cunningham of Randall Danskin, co-counsel for the Kekona family. “We’re honored to help hold the airline accountable and ensure safety for other passengers.”
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 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.
“For the past four years, this grieving family has asked Alaska for transparency and accountability to ensure this wouldn’t happen to another vulnerable passenger,” Gellatly said. “We admire this family’s bravery in continuing to fight in Mrs. Kekona’s memory, and we thank the jury for their time and thoughtfulness in holding Alaska responsible for passenger safety.”
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