Columbia Metropolitan Airport in South Carolina was host to an unfortunate and tragic event last year. Sonya Dockett, an attorney from Connecticut, lost her life on June 27 at the airport in a nightmare scenario that her family claims could have been prevented with more care from the airline. Dockett was flying with her family on a trip from Connecticut to Kentucky for her daughter’s basketball game.
The flight had to take a brief detour from its intended layover in Charlotte. Intense thunderstorms in the area forced the plane to land at Columbia Metropolitan Airport. Passengers awaited an all clear to disembark from the plane for over 45 minutes before they were sent onto an open tarmac to get inside the airport for shelter. Dockett and her family were running from the plane to the terminal when she was struck by lightning in front of her family. Dockett was brought into the terminal unconscious and suffering from severe burns. She died just over a month later from her injuries after a difficult time period of trying to recover.
Dockett’s husband, Anthony Nwachukwu, has since filed a wrongful death lawsuit naming Columbia Metropolitan Airport, American Airlines, and US Airways as defendants. Although American Airlines and US airways have since merged, though the incident occurred while the two companies were separate, so US Airways remains named in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit makes claims that the authorities involved in the incident were negligent in their handling of the situation. In particular, the lawsuit alleges that the defendants blatantly disregarded the safety of the passengers in their deplaning procedure. The airline and airport failed to eliminate all possible risks when they allowed the passengers to cross the open tarmac during a severe thunderstorm. Her family claims that Dockett may very well have still been alive if they were either allowed to stay on the plane a little longer, or had been able to disembark sooner. As the lawsuit currently stands, the requested damages are not specifically categorized. As the claim progresses, we will likely see things such as medical and funeral costs listed as economic damages. On top of the economic damages, the family has gone through severe emotional suffering while coping with the loss of their mother and will likely demand compensation for their pain and suffering.
A professor of physics from the University of New Hampshire, Joseph Dwyer, provided an opinion on the case. Dwyer has studied lightning at the University for over a decade. He stated that while he does not know the exact specifics of the situation, he does make the claim that it is always safer to be indoors while a thunderstorm is happening. He even went as far as to say that most airplanes are built and equipped to handle lightning strikes. With this in mind, it seems entirely reasonable that this incident could have been prevented with greater care from the authorities in charge of the airline and the airport.