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Disabled woman dies months after falling from wheelchair while boarding Southwest flight

By Sarah May on
 February 1, 2023

In a tragic end to a disturbing story that began last February, a disabled woman who sustained catastrophic injuries on a Southwest Airlines jetway due an alleged lack of assistance from carrier staff has reportedly passed away at the age of 25, as the New York Post reports.

The incident involving Gaby Assouline took place at the Fort-Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and is now the subject of ongoing litigation initiated by her family.

Devastating accident

The chain of events that led to Assouline's untimely death began on Feb. 25 of last year, when the woman – who suffered from a genetic disorder that made walking long distance prohibitively difficult – attempted to board a flight destined for Denver, as the Daily Mail explains.

Making use of an electric wheelchair, Assouline was traveling along the jet bridge toward the aircraft when she appeared to hit a bump in the surface and was ejected forcefully from her seat.

As a result of the impact, Assouline sustained a fracture of the C2 vertebrae, suffered cardiac arrest requiring resuscitation and subsequent intubation, and was left paralyzed, according to a GoFundMe page established by her family to help cover medical and future rehabilitation expenses.

Assouline had remained hospitalized since the date of her accident, ultimately developing a host of medical complications that eventually claimed her life.

Lawsuit filed

As the Mail further noted, Assouline's family subsequently filed suit against Southwest Airlines and one of its contractors – G2 Secure Staff – for allegedly failing “to provide proper wheelchair assistance or instruction,” failing to provide adequate staff training, and failing to warn the public of dangers within the jet bridge itself.

Assouline family attorney Robert Solomon said at the time of the court filing, “We believe something in that jet bridge caused her to be ejected, and, as the Post reported separately, this case is far from the first time that serious injuries have been blamed on jet bridge hazards.

Sandra Assouline, mother of the deceased woman, claimed that she and her daughter had requested assistance from gate staff prior the time of boarding, adding, “we assumed they would help her,” though the airline contends that offers of help from employees were declined.

Southwest Airlines, for its part, issued a statement after the lawsuit filing asserting that the company's “primary priority is the safety of our people and customers both on the ground and in the air” and that officials had “offered a response directly to those involved,” a reaction Solomon described as “insensitive.”

Life remembered

As Sandra Assouline explained on the family's GoFundMe page, her daughter suffered from a rare genetic condition known as Fibrodysplasia Ossificans Progressiva (FOP), which causes muscles to essentially turn to bone and causes a worsening of personal mobility during flare-ups.

Despite the challenges attendant to her condition, Gaby's mother described her last year as, “smart, passionate, hilarious, creative, and so resilient,” remaining highly functional in the years following her original diagnosis.

“She makes everyone around her better, simply by being her witty, brilliant self. She is taking online classes and is an advocate for making life more accessible for people with disabilities,” Mrs. Assouline added.

Gaby, her mother explained, “created art with her hands, spending hours tending to her growing garden and crocheting well-loved pieces of clothing” and “has long-distance friends around the world that she spends hours upon hours talking to each day.”

“She should be here”

As Miami ABC affiliate WPLG reported, Gaby died late last month while surrounded by family members, and Felix Assouline, Gaby's father, explained that he was holding her hand and offering a prayer in her final moments, noting, “[I said] God is our God in truth. When I said 'truth,' she passed.”

Sandra Assouline lamented the injustice of the outcome, saying, “I have five children. My five children should be here. She should be here. Not buried,” adding simply, “[t]his is not fair.”

Solomon, whose legal representation of the family in litigation continues, said, “I have watched these people suffer for 11 months, literally every day at the hospital, praying she was going to go home.”

Southwest Airlines released a statement after the news of Gaby's death emerged, saying, “Southwest offers its sincere condolences to Ms. Assouline's family, friends and all whose lives she touched. We have a more than 51-year commitment to caring for our People and Customers and remain engaged with the parties involved.”