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This Disability Activist Died After an Airline Broke Her Wheelchair

Family of Late Disability Activist Engracia Figueroa Ready to Sue Airline After They Destory Her Wheelchair and, They Say, Resulted in Her Death

Pete Buttigieg has promised to investigate Engracia Figueroa’s death, which her family says was a direct result of the airline’s destruction of her customized wheelchair.

In a case that has caught the attention of gay Secretary of Transporation  Pete Buttigieg, the surviving siblings of disability activist Engracia Figueroa are ready to sue the airline that destroyed her customized motorized wheelchair and they claim brought about the infection that led to her death last November.

According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, attorney Joshua Markowitz intends to file a lawsuit on behalf of surviving siblings Lettice Mahoney and Sandi Porter. They say Figueroa, a well-known disability activist and vegan with a strong following on social media, died as a result of injuries caused after United Airlines destroyed her wheelchair last July when she returned to Los Angeles from the Can’t Wait Care Rally in Washington D.C



Figueroa described the ordeal as it happened in a video posted to Facebook. Her customized chair had been fitted to Figueroa’s body to keep her body proper aligned and pressure off her damaged spine. According to Markowitz, the wheelchair provided to Figueroa by the airline was inadequate for her condition, and resulted in the inflammation of a healing pressure sore and later infection.


Family of Late Disability Activist Engracia Figueroa Ready to Sue Airline After They Destory Her Wheelchair and, They Say, Resulted in Her DeathFacebook/Engracia Figueroa


The airline offered to repair the wheelchair, but Figueroa sought a replacement as repaired motorized wheelchairs can be more susceptible to fires and further breakdown. Her wheelchair was worth tens of thousands of dollars, as well, and not easily or quickly repaired. United eventually relented after Figueroa’s story gained national publicity and the aid of Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL). The case has since caught the attention of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg with the Department of Transportation now looking into the incident, according the Figueroa's family.

Meanwhile, Figueroa’s condition worsened necessitating skin grafts and emergency surgery to remove infected tissue and bone. Despite the best efforts of doctors, Figueroa passed away in November, little more than three months after United destroyed her wheelchair.



Her family remembers a strong woman who refused to stop living life despite the hardships she endured. At the age of 22 Figueroa fainted and fell in front of an oncoming train in San Leandro. She survived the impact, but her left leg was amputated above the knee and she was left with a spinal cord injury.

Mahoney said the accident was but a “hiccup” in her life, and that she later opened a beauty salon and learned to surf.



Now attorney Joshua Markowitz is ready to argue in court on behalf of her surviving siblings that United’s negligence is responsible for Figueroa’s pressure sore and resulting death.

“It literally cost Engracia her life,” Markowitz said.

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