In February of last year, Gaby Assouline was boarding a Southwest Airlines flight when her electric wheelchair hit a junction on the jet bridge and flipped over, throwing her from the chair, her family says. Nearly a year later, the 25-year-old is dead. Assouline's family says she landed on her head in the fall at Florida's Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and broke her neck, paralyzing her from the neck down and leaving her unable to speak and forced to use a feeding tube. She was bedridden, "fighting for her life" in the hospital, until Jan. 22, when she died after suffering complications, NBC Miami reports. Her family says Southwest staffers refused to help Assouline make her way down the walkway to the plane before she fell, the New York Post reports.
In a lawsuit against Southwest, the family says it requested the use of a wheelchair as well as assistance for Assouline, who did have mobility but often used a wheelchair or walker for longer distances due to a genetic disease that affected her muscles. But in court papers responding to the suit, the airline claimed Assouline refused help. "Their agents owed her the highest duty of care, and they completely failed her. And it's upsetting to hear, 'well, we're gonna blame her,'" the family's lawyer says. "She would speak with her eyes, it was terrible. My wife never left our daughter," Assouline's father says. Adds her mother, "We lost our angel, we lost our baby." (Read more Southwest Airlines stories.)