Hainan Airlines is being sued for 1 million yuan after refusing to allow an injured girl to board a plane and fly for medical treatment, a decision the family says forced doctors to later amputate her right foot.
Pi Yajun was in a car in Jiayuguan, Gansu, on January 15 when the vehicle crashed and the foot was crushed, said Zhang Qihuai, a lawyer from the Beijing Lanpeng Law Firm, who is handling the case.
Within hours, the family bought two tickets for a Hainan Airlines one-hour flight to Lanzhou for urgent surgery scheduled for that day.
One ticket was for Yajun and the other for an accompanying medic, but airline staff refused to allow them to board, breaching the ticket contract, Mr Zhang said.
'By the time the airlines have sold the tickets, they have automatically entered into a contract with the passengers,' he said.
Hainan Airlines refused to comment on the case yesterday, but in a statement in February denied any wrongdoing.
It pointed to air-traffic regulations that banned its 32-seat Dornier 328 from transporting stretcher-ridden patients.
Mr Zhang said both Yajun and the medic had written clearance from the hospital to fly. The carrier could have been more flexible, purely on humanitarian grounds, he said.
The girl was ferried more than 500km by ambulance to the Affiliated Hospital of the Lanzhou Military Area Command, but by the time she arrived the following morning it was too late to do anything but amputate the foot.
Mr Zhang said the family decided to go ahead with the lawsuit after Hainan Airlines turned down a settlement offer.
The family wanted 950,000 yuan to cover the medical costs and legal fees, and to compensate them for the psychological trauma.
The incident triggered an outpouring of public sympathy towards Yajun, who is recovering in Beijing and trying to catch up on her studies.
The incident also sparked an intense debate over the reputations of mainland airlines and how the carriers should respond in emergencies.
Mainland law experts have also criticised air-traffic regulations for their lack of flexibility and called for a revamp.