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Daughter files lawsuit against Virgin America airlines over elderly father’s death

Flower symbolizing a wrongful death in Vancouver WA

While traveling on a Virgin America airlines flight from San Francisco to Boston, 93-year-old Romulo Valdez died from cardiac pulmonary arrest. Now his family, including his daughter who was aboard the flight, is suing the airline company for staff negligence.

According to The Chicago Tribune, Nicette Balukjian and her father, Romulo Valdez, were traveling on an overnight flight to attend a family reunion. Dr. Valdez had a medical condition that required him to carry an oxygen tank while traveling and he had a pacemaker. Halfway through the five-hour flight, Dr. Valdez woke his daughter and asked for his oxygen tank.

As Ms. Balukjian took the tank out of the overhead compartment, her father became unresponsive. She struggled to connect the oxygen tubes to her father’s nose and was offered little assistance from the flight attendants. Approximately 15 minutes after she connected the oxygen tank, Dr. Valdez stopped breathing. At that time, the flight attendant asked if there was a doctor on the plane and offered to allow her to use the airplane’s oxygen supply.

Dr. Valdez was carried to a first-class seat where flight attendants and a medical student began performing chest compressions on him. He was shocked using an AED machine, but neither of these methods were effective.

Ms. Balukjian thought the pilot would land the plane due to the medical emergency, but she was told that it would make its scheduled landing in Boston in half an hour. Dr. Valdez was given a blanket but his face was left exposed.

When the plane landed, Ms. Balukjian was told to stay seated while the other passengers deplaned. Passengers gawked and offered their condolences as they passed. There was not an ambulance nor an EMT crew waiting to assist the family or take them to the nearest hospital when they were finally able to exit.

Ms. Balukjian waited in the jet bridge for medical personnel to arrive for “what felt like an hour.” A medical examiner later ruled that Dr. Valdez died at 6:09 a.m., the time the plane landed.

The family has filed a lawsuit that alleges that the airline committed elder abuse by failing to provide for Dr. Valdez’s basic needs. It also claims that the airline company was negligent and caused Ms. Balukjian emotional distress. The lawsuit seeks damages in excess of $75,000. Ms. Balukjian is also working to change the airline’s policy on emergency landings when an “elderly passenger on oxygen is in medical distress.” She feels that her father was not given the care she expected.

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