Lewis Lipnick, a celebrated bassoon and contrabassoon player with the National Symphony Orchestra, is suing United Air Lines, Inc., and Lufthansa, claiming he suffered a bad fall after the airlines failed to make necessary accommodations for him and his instrument.
According to the complaint (PDF) Lipnick filed yesterday in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, he was on his way home from Germany in September 2010 after traveling there to buy a new contraforte, a type of contrabassoon. He bought a separate ticket for the 70-pound instrument and claims he was told that the airline would accommodate him.
At the airport in Munich, though, Lipnick alleged that when he asked if he could take an elevator to travel to the gate instead of the escalator, given his bulky carry-ons, an employee said no and told him to take the escalator "without offering any additional assistance." As he tried to balance the instrument and his other luggage on the escalator, according to the complaint, he fell and injured his neck, back and left arm.
Lipnick is suing both United and Lufthansa, saying in his complaint that the two companies have a "joint operating agreement" for trans-Atlantic flights like the one he was taking. The complaint includes a claim under the Montreal Convention, a multilateral treaty governing international flights, and a claim for negligence.
His attorney, Patrick Malone of Washington's Patrick Malone & Associates, could not be reached this morning. A spokesman for United declined to comment and a representative from Lufthansa did not immediately return a request for comment.
Lipnick, according to online National Symphony Orchestra biography, joined the orchestra in 1970. He was profiled in The Washington Post in October 2010 about his switch from playing a traditional contrabassoon to a contraforte, which was a relatively new invention at the time, according to the article.
A request to contact Lipnick through the orchestra was not immediately returned.
Lipnick is suing for unspecified damages for medical expenses, care, loss of earnings and earnings capacity, disfigurement, and physical pain and emotional distress. The case is assigned to U.S. District Judge Robert Wilkins.