Wrongful death suit vs Jeju Air moved to District Court

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The wrongful death lawsuit against Jeju Airlines Company Ltd. that was initially filed with the Superior Court has been moved to the U.S District Court.

Lawyer David Banes, who filed the notice of removal to the District Court for the NMI from the CNMI Superior Court and whose law firm represents Jeju Airlines, said the District Court has jurisdiction over the case because the plaintiff is a U.S. citizen and a CNMI resident and the defendant is incorporated in Korea, where it has its principal place of business and corporate headquarters, and the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000, exclusive of interest and costs.

Mari Chung Cepeda blames Jeju Airlines for the death of her mother, Tae Hyang Bang, after the airline refused to let her board a flight for Korea last January so she could obtain medical treatment for her worsening heart condition. Cepeda sued Jeju Airlines on May 21 for wrongful death, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligent infliction of emotional distress.

Bang was a Korean citizen and a permanent resident of the United States who was domiciled on Saipan. She was 62 years old at the time of her death.

According to the original complaint, Bang’s heart condition took a turn for the worse in December 2020 and Cepeda decided to bring her to Korea as soon as possible to consult with a cardiologist and undergo whatever procedures were necessary to correct her condition.

Normally, Jeju Air had daily flights to Korea but as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, flights were discontinued. However, Jeju did offer a flight from Saipan to Korea on Jan. 15, 2021. Cepeda decided that Bang should take that flight.

On Dec. 9, 2020, Cepeda attempted to book a seat on the Jan. 15, 2021 Jeju flight, but was unsuccessful. On that same day, she contacted Jeju Saipan staff member Ana Kim, and told her that her mother was in critical condition with a heart problem that could not be treated on Saipan and that she was desperate to get her mother to Korea as soon as possible, and she would need to have oxygen on the plane. The complaint stated that Kim told Cepeda she would do her best to help her, but had to check with Jeju Air’s upper management.

On Dec. 12, 2020, Cepeda informed Kim that she had ordered what’s called a POC, the Inogen One, which was approved and authorized by the Federal Aviation Administration, for her mother’s use. Kim later told Cepeda that Jeju Air management refused to allow Bang on the plane with the Inogen One.

Research by Cepeda, which she reported to Jeju Air, showed other airlines, including Asiana, United, Korean Air, and Jin Air, allowed POCs on their planes and had application forms for this purpose. A screenshot of Asiana’s website allowing the use of POCs and providing application process was sent to Jeju Air.

Later that day, Cepeda received a message Kim who said that Jeju’s decision was final and that her mother would not be allowed on their plane to Korea on Jan. 15, 2021 with a POC.

On Dec. 30, 2020, Cepeda filed a complaint against Jeju Air with the Department of Transportation and received a reply stating, “We will remind the carrier that as they are operating into a U.S. airport since the rule also applies to territories that they need to abide by the [Air Carrier Access Act] which requires them to accept FAA-approved POCs. We will forward your complaint to the airline and will ask the company to respond directly to you. Airlines are required to provide a substantive response to the complainant within 60 days.” As of May 10, 2021, Jeju Air had not responded to Cepeda’s complaint.

Through Bang’s relatives in Korea, Cepeda was able to arrange an appointment for Bang to have a consultation at Asan Medical Center on Jan. 28, 2021.

Cepeda then again informed Jeju Air of the desperate condition her mother was in and how critical it was for her mother to get passage on the plane from Saipan to Korea, and that the POC she would use was approved by the FAA.

The lawsuit alleged that Jeju Air callously cut her off and recklessly refused to accept her explanations and failed to conduct any investigation of its obligations under the Air Carrier Access Act or ACAA and the FAA approval of the Inogen one POC.

Jeju Air’s flight from Saipan to Korea took off from Saipan as scheduled on Jan. 15, 2021, without Bang.

According to the lawsuit, if Bang had been able to be on that flight and get to Korea on Jan. 15, 2021, she would have completed a 14-day quarantine and made the appointment at Asan Medical Center on Jan. 28, 2021.

If not for Jeju Air’s violation of the law in refusing passage to Bang using a POC, Cepeda said Bang would have arrived in Korea on Jan. 15, 2021, and would have had access to the specialized cardiac care at Asan Medical Center that would have saved her life.

Kimberly B. Esmores | Reporter
Kimberly Albiso Bautista has covered a wide range of news beats, including the community, housing, crime, and more. She now covers sports for the Saipan Tribune. Contact her at kimberly_bautista@saipantribune.com.

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