The family of an American Airlines employee who died in an accident in August is suing the airline and the city of Charlotte, blaming longstanding safety issues for his death.
According to the lawsuit filed by the family of 24-year-old baggage handler and driver Kendrick Darrell Hudson, he was operating a baggage vehicle known as a "tug" on Aug. 11, 2019, at the airport's Terminal E when it hit a bag that had fallen off another tug. Hudson tried to make a right turn to avoid the bag, but could not avoid hitting it. His tug then rolled over, crushing him.
Hudson was a baggage handler and driver for Piedmont Airlines, a subsidiary of American Airlines.
At a press conference Tuesday afternoon in the airport's lobby, Hudson's family and lawyers said Terminal E's poor lighting led to his death. Hudson’s mother, Erika Vernon, implored officials with the Charlotte-Douglas International Airport -- which is owned by the city -- and American Airlines to fix the lighting problem at Terminal E and around the airport. Employees say still hasn't been fixed.
The airport recently broke ground on a $600 million lobby expansion, part of a $2.5-3.1 billion capital investment program renovating and expanding the airport.
"They’re putting so many millions of dollars into renovating the airport to make it look good, but they’re not doing anything for their employees," Vernon said. "You have to ensure the safety of the employees before anything else can go right in the airport. So, for nothing to be done up until this point, it just makes you angry."
Donielle Prophete, a leader of CWA Local 3645, a union that represents Charlotte airport workers, also attended the press conference. She said the union had cited Terminal E's lighting as a safety concern multiple times before Hudson's death. According to Prophete, the danger of working at Terminal E, particularly at night, led employees to nickname the area "Death Valley."
Prophete and lawyers representing the Hudson family also said their research shows at least 15 people have died on airport tarmacs in the U.S. and Canada since 2010. Many of those incidents involved tug vehicles falling over or hitting airport workers.
The CWA union also commissioned a survey of 500 members who are American Airlines employees, mostly at Charlotte-Douglas. It found 94% of respondents were somewhat or very concerned about safety, and that more than half of those who work on airport ramps -- those who load, unload and transport baggage -- reported working with defective vehicles.
The survey results cited understaffing and time pressure demands as causes for safety risks.