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United Sued Over Man’s Death

February 1, 1998

BOSTON (AP) _ A woman is suing United Airlines because its planes lack the medical equipment that she says could have saved her husband’s life when he suffered a heart attack.

``I want to make United accountable,″ Jamie Somes, 39, told the Chicago Tribune. ``They knew before that there was a problem and a need to update their medical kits. I hope they will wake up and take charge.″

Her lawsuit, filed Friday in federal court in Boston, may be the first time an airline has been accused of failing to provide lifesaving medical care in flight.

Tony Molinaro, a spokesman for United, which is based in Elk Grove Village, Ill., said Sunday that the airline is examining ``what the right medical equipment for the aircraft should be.″

He declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Steven Somes, a 37-year-old mutual fund manager on a business trip, was sitting in the first-class cabin of a United flight from Boston to San Francisco in October 1995 when he had the heart attack. He had been given a clean bill of health by a family doctor not long before.

The flight had equipment required by the Federal Aviation Administration, including a blood pressure cuff, a stethoscope and medicine for acute allergic reactions.

The lawsuit contends the plane should have been equipped with a portable defibrillator, which delivers a strong electric shock that can restore a normal heart rhythm during some cases of cardiac arrest.

The lawsuit says ``although the medical emergency kit ... may have complied with certain minimum requirements, it was inadequate to treat a sudden cardiac event such as that suffered by Mr. Somes.″

Somes was in the company of three doctors _ including an expert in critical care medicine _ when he suffered the heart attack.

The expert, Paul Covington of North Carolina, directed a desperate attempt to save Somes’ life. But he has said the plane was missing some of the tools most commonly used by paramedics in cardiac arrest cases.

Two international airlines, Qantas and Virgin Atlantic, have carried defibrillators for several years. Other airlines say they plan to begin carrying the machines soon.

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