Airlines Face $6 Million Lawsuit for Wrongful Death of 'Morbidly Obese' Woman

A lawsuit was filed after an obese woman died waiting for a flight.

ByABC News
January 31, 2013, 12:05 PM

Feb. 1, 2013— -- A $6 million lawsuit has been filed in New York City after an obese woman died while waiting for a flight to bring her from Hungary to her home in New York.

The three airlines named are Delta Airlines, KLM and Lufthansa. They are being charged with wrongful death, among other things. The deceased woman's husband is the plaintiff on the lawsuit.

According to the lawsuit, Vilma Soltesz and her husband Janos Soltesz flew from New York's John F. Kennedy Airport in mid-September to Budapest, Hungary, connecting through Amsterdam. They purchased three seats -- two for Vilma and one for Janos. That portion of the trip was completed without incident.

In early October, Vilma Soltesz began to feel ill. Her doctor in the United States said to come see him as soon as she returned to New York. The lawsuit calls Vilma Soltesz "morbidly obese." She also had an amputated leg and was wheelchair-bound. ABC previously reported Vilma weighed 407 pounds.

The couple was to return from Hungary to the U.S. on a KLM flight departing from Budapest on Oct. 15, 2012. The lawsuit states that the couple was issued boarding passes and boarded their flight, but once on the plane, found the seatbacks of two seats in their row were broken, preventing Mrs. Soltesz from maneuvering her wheelchair into her assigned seats. They were not offered new seats. Instead, the captain told them they must disembark, the suit claims.

Five hours later, the lawsuit states, KLM employees told the couple the airline had made arrangements for them to take a Delta flight to New York from Prague the following day. The couple said in court papers that they drove 4.5 hours to Prague that night and were issued boarding passes for the flight to New York. They confirmed with the airline that proper arrangements had been made concerning Vilma's weight and medical condition.

They attempted to board the aircraft, but the airline did not have the proper wheelchair to transport Vilma. They were forced to get off the plane, the lawsuit claims. Janos said the airline told him it "did not have access to a skylift" to transport his wife and there was nothing more they could do.

Delta said the airline was physically unable to board Vilma her on the aircraft.

The couple then returned to their vacation home in Hungary and contacted their travel agent in New York. The travel agent made arrangements for the couple to return to New York on a Lufthansa flight from Budapest with a connection in Frankfurt on Oct. 22. On that day, the lawsuit states, the couple arrived at the airport and were issued boarding passes for all legs of their journey. On this flight, as for all prior flights, the couple had purchased three seats.

Lufthansa medics and local EMS/firefighters helped Mrs. Soltesz into her row of seats. When the embarkation was nearly complete, the lawsuit states, the captain came out of the cockpit and ordered the couple to disembark the plane, because "other passengers needed to catch a connecting flight and cannot be delayed further." The disembarkation process took another 25 to 30 minutes, the suit claims.

The couple again returned to Hungary and called their travel agent to make arrangements to get home to New York, but Mrs. Soltesz died of kidney failure before arrangements could be made.

The lawsuit states that at every instance, the airlines were told and reminded of Vilma's condition by both the travel agent and the couple. It states that the defendants acted in "willful, wanton and reckless disregard" for Vilma Soltesz.

"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 said in a statement.

"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."

KLM and Lufthansa did not return ABC News' request for comment.