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Lawsuits & Litigation

Southwest Airlines Wins Wrongful Death Lawsuit Involving Passenger Mistaken as Unruly

— July 14, 2022

An appeals court recently ruled in favor of Southwest Airlines, ending a wrongful death lawsuit filed over the death of Rich Ilczyszyn, 46.

Earlier this month, Southwest Airlines won a wrongful death lawsuit that was filed over the death of a passenger, Rich Ilczyszyn, 46. The ruling was handed down by California’s appeals court and supported a trial court’s decision to rule in favor of the airline. What happened though? Why was the lawsuit filed in the first place?

Gavel and two hardbound books on wooden table; image by Succo, via
Gavel and two hardbound books on wooden table; image by Succo, via

The lawsuit was filed by Ilczyszyn’s family and named the flight crew and Southwest as defendants. According to the suit, Ilczyszyn “suffered a fatal pulmonary embolism while on a flight from Oakland to Orange County on Sept. 19, 2014.” However, the flight crew allegedly mistook the Ilczyszyn’s distress for unruly behavior. As a result, his family claimed “Ilczyszyn died because the crew failed to provide assistance.”

The day of the incident, Ilczyszyn was traveling alone on a business trip. Around the last 10 minutes of the flight, he “locked himself in the airplane’s lavatory.” Court documents claim “flight attendants could hear noises that sounded like grunting, growling [and] crying.” When the flight crew asked him to open the door, he did not comply and “crew members were unable to push the door in, because Ilczyszyn was pressing his foot against it.”

At the time, the crew took his behavior as a security threat, declared a lockdown, and “requested that law enforcement officers meet the plane upon landing.” According to court documents, “the The other passengers were allowed off the plane before sheriff’s deputies broke into the lavatory and found Ilczyszyn unconscious, with no pulse.” He died the next day at the hospital. An autopsy later listed pulmonary thromboembolism as the cause of death.

As part of the wrongful death suit, the family requested $20 million for Ilczyszyn’s wife, Kelly, and their minor child, and $5 million for their two adult children. Another $13 million was requested for lost future earnings.

The trial took place in 2019 and witnesses for the airline testified that it was “was unlikely Ilczyszyn could have survived even if the flight crew had been able to get to him.” Additionally, Southwest claimed “immunity under federal code because its employees were responding to a suspected security threat.”

Witnesses for the plaintiffs pushed back and testified that the flight crew “breached the standard of care by failing to realize Ilczyszyn was in medical distress.” They also argued that Ilczyszyn could have been resuscitated and that the “lavatory door could have been removed from its hinges from the outside.”

At the end of the day, the trial jury ruled that while Southwest was negligent, that “negligence was not a substantial factor in Ilczyszyn’s death.


Southwest Wins Lawsuit Over Dying Passenger Who Was Mistaken as Unruly

Southwest Passenger Dies After Being Mistaken as Unruly, Airline Wins Lawsuit


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