Last month, on the eve of the wrongful death trial for a Southwest Airlines Ramp Agent who was thrown off his tug and killed in an accident with a mobile lounge on the taxi-way at Dulles Airport in January 2012, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority paid a $2 million settlement wrongful death settlement to the parents of the Ramp Agent.
The Washington Post reported on this story Sunday, and gave this account of the accident:
On a dark, misty morning in January 2012, Southwest Airlines ramp agent Jared Dodson steered his baggage tug, with four empty carts behind him, out of the main terminal at Dulles International Airport and headed toward Concourse B. He came to a complete stop as he reached Taxiway B, then continued straight across the airplanes’ taxiway.
As Dodson crossed the taxiway, a 35-ton mobile lounge with a handful of passengers aboard, driven toward Concourse D by Kenneth L. Smith Jr., made a diagonal beeline toward him on the taxiway at about twice Dodson’s speed, investigative records show. Smith said he never saw Dodson’s tug below him, and he smashed into two of Dodson’s empty carts. The impact hurled Dodson under the wheels of the mobile lounge, crushing him. Dodson remained conscious for a time, as horrified co-workers rushed to his side, but he died the next day. He was 25.
The parents, J.C. and Nancy Dodson, still think the mobile lounges at Dulles are unsafe, and they say that no additional safety measures have been put in place in the almost three years after their son’s death.
More from the Washington Post:
In April 2013, the Dodsons sued MWAA. As their legal team investigated the squadron of 50-year-old mobile lounges at Dulles, they found what their experts thought were serious safety flaws, as well as confusion over the rules about the Dulles taxiways and the lack of a risk management system at the airport — all of which they thought contributed to the accident. MWAA responded that the lounges were safe and that safety was paramount, and that Dodson simply had driven into the lounge’s path and failed to wear his seat belt.
Officials at Dulles disagree and say the lounges have had an extremely small number of accidents over the past 10 years during millions of runs between the main terminal, Concourse D and other international arrivals. MWAA said the decision to pay the Dodsons $2 million was made by its insurance company and is not an admission that Smith or Dulles was at fault.
“There’s a reason they don’t use mobile lounges anywhere else,” said J.C. Dodson, a retired Air Force pilot and senior risk adviser at BAE Systems. “At the end of the day, the factors that drove the causation of this accident have not changed, and there doesn’t seem to be any willingness by the airport’s management to look into it and see what should be changed.”
The accident was tragic, and according to the Washington Post, the driver of the mobile lounge was never tested for drugs or alcohol, and the driver’s cellphone was never searched for transmissions at the time of the accident. But the most distressing fact comes from the Ramp Agent’s father at the end of the article:
“The emotional toll on us is one thing,” said J.C. Dodson, “but there’s been a lot of wear and tear on [Jared Dodson’s co-workers] at Southwest. There just hasn’t been an acknowledgment that they’re going to do it different at MWAA. Nothing they’ve communicated to us would prevent this particular accident.”