Dec. 16, 2009 -- A Florida man is suing the U.S. government for $500,000 because he cut his foot on a piece of glass after removing his shoes at an airport security checkpoint two years ago.
Joel Mombrea, 50, claims that he sustained severe nerve damage and has been unable to do his job as a custom closet builder ever since. The stress over the injury, he said, has led him to bankruptcy and to a separation with his wife.
"It's a simple accident, but an accident that caused me a lot of pain and problems. It was something that really wasn't my fault," Mombrea told ABC News. "This incident pretty much destroyed my life. It sounds like a simple cut on the foot but the damage that it caused and the things that changed in my life because of it, personally I don't think $500,000 is enough. I lost my marriage and I can't do to the work that I love to do."
His wife, Ora Mombrea, is seeking, in the suit filed last week, $100,000 in damages because she "was deprived of the services, society, consortium and companionship of her spouse."
In the meantime, Mombrea says in court papers he filed in July for personal bankruptcy in Florida. He had $94,444 in credit card and business debts and owed $310,909 on a mortgage on his house which is now valued at $285,770.
Mombrea says it all started on Dec. 10, 2007 when Mombrea, a former resident of Buffalo, N.Y., was flying from upstate New York back to his home in Cooper City, Fla., north of Miami. He had been in town to see a game between the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins. (Despite his upbringing, Mombrea said he's now a Dolphins fan.)
Like other travelers, Mombrea was asked by the Transportation Security Administration to remove his shoes at the checkpoint. A gold chain in his carry-on bag raised some concerns with the X-ray screener and the TSA agents asked to do a further inspection.
Trouble at Airport Security
It was when he walked over -- still without shoes because the TSA had them -- to the secondary screening area that Mombrea stepped on a large piece of glass, he said.
"When I walked over to the area, I felt an irritation in my foot. I reached down to scratch it and there was blood on my hand," he said.
Mombrea sat down and pulled a piece of glass nearly an inch long out of his foot.
After a getting a Band-Aid from the TSA, he got on his flight to Florida. But twice on the plane he needed first-aid assistance from the flight attendants.
"My sneaker was full of blood," he said.
After arriving in Florida, he went to his office but the pain was too much and he eventually went to the hospital. Initially, he was told to wear flip-flops. Eventually doctors said he had some nerve damage. Mombrea said he was basically unable to do heavy lifting, stay on his feet long and could not work. He had to hire subcontractors to help with his business, putting a strain on his finances.
So he sued.
The TSA has a policy of not commenting on pending litigation, according to spokeswoman Ann Davis.
Mombrea's lawyer Gregory P. Krull said they are taking the position that the accident happened in a TSA-controlled area, therefore the agency is responsible.
Krull is a member of personal-injury firm Lipsitz Green Scime Cambria which secured a $14 million judgment for a worker who suffered severe electric shock on the job and a $25 million settlement for a driver who was severely injured when a liquid nitrogen tank he was delivering ruptured.
Mombrea said in his suit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Buffalo, that the injuries were caused "as a result of the negligence, careless, reckless and/or unlawful conduct on the part of the" TSA.
He claims that the TSA left the area in "an unsafe, dangerous, hazardous and defective condition"
Had to spend time in the hospital, bed and at home and was "caused to be incapacities from his usual activates and employment."
The case was filed last week and has not yet had a hearing.