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Passenger sues airline
over rapid descent
Alleges that it caused mild hearing loss

by Valerie Verkamp
Landmark assistant editor

A passenger on Southwest Airlines flight #1731 entered into a settlement in a personal injury lawsuit against the airline.

The lawsuit, filed Feb. 17 2015, alleges an aircraft inbound to Kansas City International Airport from Indianapolis rapidly descended 26,100 feet, causing passenger, Gary Petz, 64, of Olathe, Ks. to sustain ear trauma resulting in permanent mild hearing loss in one ear.

The petition for damages alleges on April 3, 2014 the aircraft without warning descended from 36,000 feet to 9,900 feet in approximately 11 minutes.

Over a specific five-minute interval, the aircraft dropped 35,500 feet to 18,500 feet, it states. That is an average rate of 3,400 feet per minute.

During the descent, the lawsuit contends Petz suffered severe pain in his ear, presumably linked to his eardrum going inward, forcing the bones of his middle ear inward near the inner ear.

In the seven days following the flight, Petz allegedly experienced “severe ear pain and headaches.” His condition resulted in permanent mild hearing loss in his right ear, lack of coordination, headaches and poor balance, states the petition for damages.

Additionally, the incident altered his ability to perform specific duties crucial to his career, alleged the petition.

The suit says a physician ordered Petz to temporarily avoid flying, which was an essential mode of transportation for his line of work. Petz also allegedly struggled to hear clients over the phone, as well as when he was engaged in business meetings.

On behalf of Petz's situation, his attorney Stephen Gorny, requested the airline compensate Petz in the amount of $74,999.99.

The requested damages would compensate Petz for suffered physical injuries, pain, medical expenses, lost wages and permanent hearing loss.

Gorny contends Southwest Airlines failed to establish procedures to prevent injury in situations of a rapid descent and failed to properly hire and train a flight crew. The petition for damages also states passengers were ill-informed of the dangers posed by rapid descent.

In an answer filed April 10, 2015, Southwest Airlines denied Petz's allegations that the aircraft descended 26,100 feet. The airline, based out of Dallas, claimed it was “without knowledge or information sufficient to form a belief as to the truth of the allegations” that Petz suffered permanent mild hearing loss as a result of the incident.

On Feb. 16 the cause was dismissed with prejudice after the parties involved reached an agreement. The amount of compensation was not disclosed to the public.