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Woman In Wheelchair Forced To Crawl Onto Plane, Suit Says

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A woman who uses a wheelchair says she was forced to crawl onto an American Airlines commuter plane in San Diego because the airline wouldn't provide her an access ramp.

Theresa Purcell, a 33-year-old hip-hop artist who has a neurological disorder that limits her mobility, filed a lawsuit against the airline last Friday, according to KHON 2. She says the humiliating incident happened when she boarded an American Airlines commuter flight going from San Diego to LAX.

Even though Purcell told a gate agent before her flight that she would need an access ramp, it never got set up, she said. When she got to the plane and asked the crew for a portable ramp, she was told that they weren't going to bring it out because it would delay the flight, Purcell told CBS Los Angeles. Purcell said she had to crawl up a narrow flight of stairs, and then crawl down the aisle to her seat.

“I was humiliated," Purcell told CBS Los Angeles. "I mean it was embarrassing to have like 50-something people watch you crawl into a plane. There was a ramp right next to the plane and she’s all like, 'Oh, it’s too late.'"

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Purcell's attorney, Christy Ho, told KHON 2, "When she got on the plane, the flight attendant tapped her on the shoulder and said, ‘You’re a trooper. I’ve never seen anybody crawl like that.'"

American Airlines would not deny or confirm Purcell's allegations to CBS Los Angeles, saying they are still investigating the incident. They recently released this statement: "We take these matters very seriously and began investigating Ms. Purcell’s claims … when they were first brought to our attention. We will evaluate the lawsuit as soon as we receive it."

However, shortly after the incident, Purcell said she received an apology letter from Christy Garden, Department of Travel Liaison, Customer Relations of the American Airlines/US Airways Corporate Office. Here is an excerpt:

On behalf of US Airways and American Airlines, please accept our apologies for the difficulties Ms. Purcell experienced with her request for level entry boarding. We regret that a ramp was not requested so Ms. Purcell would be able to board the aircraft without going up the stairs, assistance should have been provided shortly thereafter. Based on what you have shared, it appears our employees didn’t provide the the attentive, courteous and professional service we expect as a company.

When Purcell hired her lawyer to send a letter to American Airlines asking for compensation, she received this response: "Thank you for your letter of demand on behalf of Theresa Purcell. American Airlines will not be issuing any compensation for your client’s injuries claim."

Purcell is suing the company under the Air Carrier Access Act, which protects people with disabilities from being discriminated on commercial airlines. She's seeking $75,000 in general damages, as well as punitive damages.

Last month, American Airlines came under fire after crew members didn't give a passenger who was undergoing chemotherapy a wheelchair when she requested one, according to FOX News. They've since apologized.

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