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United Sued Over Man’s Death

February 2, 1998

BOSTON (AP) _ Steven Somes died of a heart attack while sitting in his first-class seat on what was supposed to be a routine flight from Boston to San Francisco.

Now the widow of the 37-year-old mutual fund manager is suing United Airlines. Jamie Somes claims her husband’s life would not have ended in October 1995 if the airplane had been outfitted with certain lifesaving equipment.

``I want to make United accountable,″ said Mrs. Somes, 39, who filed the lawsuit Friday in U.S. District Court in Boston. ``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.″

The Chicago Tribune reported Sunday that the lawsuit may be the first time an airline has been accused of failing to provide life-saving medical care in flight.

At the time of Somes’ death, United flights carried on-board equipment required by the Federal Aviation Administration, including a blood pressure cuff, a stethoscope and medicine for acute allergic reactions.

The lawsuit states that ``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.″ The suit contends the plane should have been equipped with a portable defibrillator, which delivers a strong electric shock that can sometimes restore a heart rhythm.

United spokesman Tony Molinaro said Sunday that the airline is examining ``what the right medical equipment for the aircraft should be.″ He declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Somes was with three doctors, including an expert in critical care medicine, when he suffered the heart attack. The expert, Paul Covington, directed the 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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