Sisters sue airline over alleged toxic fumes on Nashville flight

Thursday, October 29, 2009 at 2:41am
Staff Reports

A Franklin woman and her twin sister, claiming mechanical trouble on a domestic flight bound for Nashville in which they were passengers caused them neurological and respiratory ailments, have filed suit against Southwest Airlines.

Victoria Vaughn Holsted of Franklin, and Valerie Vaughn of Birmingham, Ala., allege in their complaint filed Wednesday that as a result of a toxic air exposure onboard a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 on Jan. 27, they have suffered severe injuries, including motor skill deficiencies, loss of balance, vision impairment and uncontrollable tremors.

“I feel like I have been poisoned. I want my health back,” stated Vaughn, a PGA golf pro.

Since Southwest Airlines Flight 1705, the 45-year-old sisters have been forced to take extended leave from work because of various symptoms, according to their attorney Alisa Brodkowitz. Holsted is a midstate real estate executive. The suit was filed in Birmingham.

According to documents filed in U.S. District Court for Northern Alabama, the sisters were heading to Nashville from Los Angeles when approximately an hour into their flight there was a noticeable change in air quality on board. Holstead and Vaughn, along with other passengers, “felt extreme pressure in their ears and their ears began to pop and ache,” the claim reads.

The lawsuit identifies the condition as hypoxia, more commonly known as oxygen deprivation, and says that passengers were having trouble breathing. It also says that once flight attendants notified the cabin of the problem, the plane “entered a steep ascent” and the pilot announced to passengers that there had been a malfunction.

While the plane eventually managed a safe emergency landing in Albuquerque, the lawsuit claims that Holsted and Vaughn were subjected to “super-heated air,” a mist that hung in the cabin and, once discovered, exposure to “contaminated bleed air.”

Bleed air is the outside air fraction of cabin supply air that can be contaminated with high-temperature oil or hydraulic fluid and their byproducts, the filing says.

Three days after the flight, Holsted, suffering from a variety of symptoms, contacted Southwest's customer service department to get more information, according to the suit, and was told by an agent there had been pressurization issues on the flight. But when her sister called, a different agent said the airline had no record of it.

“I am worried that there may be other passengers from Flight 1705 who are also sick but don’t know why. They deserve to be told,” Holsted said. “I think about it every day.”

Despite repeated requests by the sisters and a previous lawsuit, officials for Southwest Airlines have refused to answer their questions seeking information as to the substances they were exposed to on Flight 1705, according to Brodkowitz.

“We are filing this lawsuit in part because we want to help our clients learn what chemicals they were exposed to on that flight so their doctors can provide them with proper medical treatment,” Brodkowitz said.

The sisters are seeking $75,000 in damages each, alleging that Southwest Airlines negligently operated and maintained the aircraft, causing their injuries.

In April, the sisters apparently filed a lawsuit in a Los Angeles superior court demanding that the Dallas-based carrier tell them what chemical that had been exposed to before the emergency landing. The results of that suit are not known.

According to a Dallas news report in July, Southwest agreed to turn over ductwork and cabin upholstery for testing, after an investigator's theory that a fuel additive called TCP may have found its way into cabin air. The chemical is toxic, the report said.

The testing reportedly would allow attorneys to determine whether there was TCP residue in the cabin, but results have not been made available.

Other than turning over materials, Southwest has not publicly commented on the lawsuit, but in April did acknowledge that Flight 1705 had to be diverted to Albuquerque but offered no further details.


4 Comments on this post:

By: Jagman on 10/29/09 at 6:26

Too many lawyers!

By: frank brown on 10/29/09 at 7:46

If you cannot make it on the tour you have to find other means of support. This lady and her sister have chosen (due to lack of other talents) to sue. It is the face of a declining society.

By: localboy on 10/29/09 at 8:28

Good for them.

By: sidneyames on 10/29/09 at 9:03

Well, I agree that if the toxic air made them sick, they should be compensated. The fact that the airlines refused to release the information makes me suspicious. And yet another reason to add to my list of "I don't fly in planes because". Number 1 reason, I don't trust airline pilots that much. Look at their recent records. Fighting the cockpit; talking about their dogs; not paying attention; working on their laptops and having "automatic pilot addiction". Too lame for me.