Airlines Sued After Woman — Too Overweight to Fly Home — Died

Janos Soltesz has reportedly filed a lawsuit against Lufthansa, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines and Delta Air Lines seeking $5.7 million in damages, claiming that the airlines refused to allow his wife to fly home to New York from Hungary.
The attorney of the couple claims that the airlines violated laws protecting the disabled, contributing to the cause of the death of Vilma, who is the wife of Janos.
Vilma Soltesz — who was 56 years old, weighed 425 pounds, had only one leg and used a wheelchair — died this past October from kidney failure after allegedly being denied boarding an aircraft at the airports in Budapest, Prague and Frankfurt while attempting to return to her home in New York, according to her husband Janos.
Vilma apparently gained weight while at the couple’s vacation home in the Hungary countryside due to a combination of kidney disease and diabetes, causing her to retain a significant amount of water over the course of a month — which supposedly explains why the couple was able to fly as passengers to Hungary but not be able to return to New York.
Although the couple purchased two seats for her for the flight home, she was reportedly informed by a representative of KLM that a seat belt extender was not available for her. However, a spokeswoman for KLM claimed that she was unable to even board the aircraft despite all possible efforts, rendering a seat belt extender useless.
The couple refused to have Vilma treated in their native Hungary because they did not trust the medical personnel there. Her extensive medical history was better known to the medical professionals in New York to whom she was a patient. They drove as far as Prague and Frankfurt to attempt to board aircraft for flights to New York, but with no success.
I wonder how Vilma was able to fit in a vehicle and be transported for hours on the highways of Europe to the airports where she supposedly could not board. I also wonder why they did not seek medical attention in other European countries if they did not trust the Hungarian medical community. I may be American, but surely there are some good hospitals in Europe — no?
FlyerTalk members discussed and debated whether the airlines did everything they could to accommodate the couple, or if the airlines discriminated against Vilma due to her excessive weight. Many FlyerTalk members believe that Janos does not have a case.
While Janos seeks answers pertaining to this case, questions — listed in no particular order — included:

  1. Did Vilma exceed the seat loading weight limits of each of the aircraft she attempted to board?
  2. Should the couple have sought medical attention in Hungary — or at any of the other locations to which they drove in Europe — to have exercised every effort possible to prevent the death of Vilma?
  3. Was a conscious decision made by them to not seek medical attention in Europe, only to shift the blame to the airlines involved — or are the airlines culpable in at least partially contributing to the death of Vilma?
  4. Were there other options of which they could have taken advantage to prevent the tragic outcome of her death, such as taken a cruise ship or private airplane to the United States?
  5. Did they have travel insurance of any kind?
  6. Had Vilma successfully boarded the aircraft, would she have possibly been an impediment hindering an unlikely event such as an emergency evacuation?

Is there more to this story about which we do not yet know?
What do you think? Should Janos Soltesz be awarded the $5.7 million in damages, or does he not have a case? Judge for yourself by watching the video below:

  1. I notice there were no questions for the airlines such as:
    1. You got them to Hungary on off the plane so how is it you cant get them back home.
    2. Do you have facilities to deal with such cases and if not then why sell the ticket?
    3. Is there a safety issue to other passengers with not wearing a seat belt? Ryan Air seems to think not! If so why not allow boarding at own risk?
    Whatever contributory actions the plaintiff is responsible for, the airline cant escape the fact they new of the disability, sold the ticket then threw their hands up and took no responsibility when they found they had bitten off more than they could chew.

  2. In the end this is a case that the lawyers are going to argue over and we (non-involved parties with limited information) are not in a position to really make an informed decision.
    The way I look at it is that, regardless of the law or any legal obligations, this was a human being in BAD health who was suffering and only wanted to get home. I find it hard to believe that it was impossible for some solution to be found….even if it was something where they found a flight that was going to be pretty empty and they temporarily adjusted a row of seats.
    Heck, large animals are transported all the time….maybe it would have been less than dignified but they could have transported her in the same way as they transport lions/horses/etc….

  3. Hailing from Eastern Europe myself, it’s impossible for me not to frown upon (avoiding a harsher word here) risking your own life just because of the American prejudice that healthcare systems abroad can’t be trusted. If there’s any significant export from Eastern Europe, it’s doctors and healthcare experts. Have a look at the surnames in your hospitals across the pond. It may not all be spit-shiny, but expertise is unquestionable, at least as much as in the US. Therefore, I’m sorry to say that the No. 1 cause of this lady’s tragic death is ignorance.

  4. @geminidreams:
    The answers to your questions are mostly in the threads but as a TL;DR, the answers to questions 1 and 2 are that the woman was a passenger of size on the way over, but it was her condition getting worse while there and her gaining 100+ lbs of water weight that was the issue. So at the time of booking and even on the first flight there wasn’t an issue. DL, KLM, and LHT all tried to accommodate her through various methods however all of those methods failed. There were also concerns that during an evac no one would be able to assist her given her weight and the fact that during one of the failed boarding attempts multiple firefighters were having an extremely difficult time lifting her in her wheelchair.
    As to your question 3, while it may not pose a safety issue to others, there is a legal requirement to be belted in during taxi, takeoff, and landing. Regardless of what Ryan Air wishes they could do it is about meeting the regulations of the countries the airlines are operating in.
    So actually no, the airline wasn’t aware of her condition until they showed up to go home early, and they made every attempt (that we know of) to get her home however they weren’t able to accommodate. And we have to remember that in the contract of carriage that we agree to when we purchase a ticket that the airline has the right to refuse boarding for any reason.
    At the end of the day she did this to herself. She refused medical treatment because she believed that the hospitals would be sub standard (which isn’t true), they didn’t look into any other options to get home other than airlines (privet aircraft, cargo flight, passenger liner), they didn’t attempt transport to a “western” hospital in Germany, the UK, or France, and above all she traveled with a serious medical condition knowing that immediate care wouldn’t be available if needed. The thing to me that is the most sad is that even though they have no case the airlines will settle out of court because it will be cheaper than litigation and it will set a precedent for other pax to sue on similar grounds when IDB.

  5. As a US citizen, she would have been charged ‘the full rate’ in terms of healthcare…likely to have been thousands and thousands of US dollars. There is no reciprocal healthcare agreement between the US and Europe, unlike us UK citizens and the US. I suspect this is simply a case of not liking foreigners in terms of hospitals! I shoud also say as a UK citizen it would be MOST unlikely that my travel insurance (read not health insurance) would cover any pre-existing condition that had required hospitalisation within the last year.
    At what point is somone too big (or too sick to fly?)

  6. Many of our European countries have a great thing called not a total lack of all human morality. Healthcare in those countries will NOT be denied to foreigners or those uninsured when it’s a (possible) case of life of death. They’ld rather hunt you down later hoping to get any costs covered and loose out on that, than deny treatment for just hard cash and let another human being die because of it. Now aint it great!? 😉
    And a case of not liking foreigners in terms of hospitals? That would actually first require Vilma to actually seek medical treatment during her stay, whether in Hungary or any of the other many options we have. Instead, Vilma decided to visit no such option, already having made up her mind that apparently nowhere in Europe there is any proper healthcare to be found. Her -and families- own narrow way of thinking about European healthcare was the feeding ground for the spiraling out of hand that would follow.
    What options a UK travel insurance might offer or not is totally irrelevent, just like the total irrelevance of the fact that it would be 100% covered within any travel and/or healthinsurance within for me and my fellow countrymen, only one relevant would be what options there were within the insurance Vilma took out, if any. And even more important than that; health goes above money, or at least life should go above money. Even totally uninsured she could’ve gotten excellent care in certain European countries. And not being taken hostage or whatever until bills get paid or not.
    Have to agree with CTJoyce on this one.

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