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Handicapped Girl Kept From Boarding Plane Wins Suit

February 12, 1988

ST. LOUIS (AP) _ A federal jury has awarded a handicapped teen-ager and her parents $92,000 in a suit filed against TWA after the airline refused to let the girl board a plane alone two years ago.

The jury deliberated about three hours Thursday before returning its verdict in favor of Mary Park ″Polly″ Tallarico and her parents, Thomas M. and Mary C. Tallarico, of Ladue.

Lawyers said the trial was the first under the 1986 Air Carrier Access Act, a federal law that bars airlines from discriminating against handicapped people who are qualifed to fly.

″It’s a great day for the handicapped,″ said David B.B. Helfrey, the Tallaricos’ attorney. ″She had a right to fly alone and be treated with dignity.″

TWA said it planned to appeal.

Polly, 14, has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair. She has difficulty speaking but can communicate with the aid of a special device. During the trial, she used sign language.

The lawsuit stemmed from an incident in 1986 when TWA officials in Houston refused to allow Polly to board a flight to St. Louis alone although she had a confirmed reservation.

During the trial, Polly’s parents testified that she was capable of flying alone and had done so before.

Attorneys for TWA said she had been refused boarding because of concern for her safety.

The family originally asked for $101,000 in actual damages and $5 million in punitive damages. Chief U.S. District Judge John F. Nangle threw out the claim for punitive damages, ruling that no evidence was presented that TWA acted maliciously.

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