Dragged United passenger suffered concussion, plans lawsuit

Dragged United passenger suffered concussion, plans lawsuit
© Greg Nash

The passenger who was violently dragged off a United Airlines flight is planning on suing the airline over his treatment, which resulted in a concussion, a broken nose and the loss of two teeth, according to his lawyer.

The legal team for 69-year-old David Dao, a Kentucky physician, has filed an emergency motion in the Cook County Circuit Court in Illinois asking a judge to force United to preserve videos, cockpit voice recordings and other evidence relevant to the incident.

There will be a Monday hearing on the motion, which is the first step toward an eventual lawsuit. The suit will likely focus on the use of force and the physical injuries and emotional distress that Dao sustained.

Dao will need to undergo reconstructive surgery, his lawyer said.

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“This lawsuit hopefully will create ... an international discussion on how we’re going to be treated going forward,” Tom Demetrio, a Chicago-based personal injury lawyer, said at a press conference on Thursday. “We’re doing our due diligence. When we file this lawsuit, it’s because every preposition is in that lawsuit for a reason. When our investigative work is over, we will file a lawsuit.”

Dao boarded a United flight from Chicago to Louisville on Sunday evening when the crew announced that four seats were needed to accommodate airline personnel. After compensation was offered and no one volunteered to be bumped from the flight, passengers were selected at random.

Dao refused to give up his seat because he needed to reach his destination to treat patients, so United brought aviation authorities on board to assist with removing him.

In disturbing video that emerged on Twitter, security officers can be seen forcibly removing Dao from his seat and dragging him — bloodied — down the aisle by his wrists as other customers yelled out in protest.

“If you’re going to eject a passenger, under no circumstances can it be done with unreasonable force or violence. That’s the law,” Demetrio said. “We owe each other an ordinary care standard. In the world of common carriers, they have the highest duty of care to provide.”

The incident has sparked nationwide outrage and calls for congressional hearings.

Lawmakers are demanding more information and pushing for new safeguards for travelers, President Trump has blasted United for how it handled the “horrible” event and a petition is demanding that United’s CEO resign.

United has since apologized, refunded everyone on board and promised not to use airport law enforcement in such situations anymore, while the Chicago Department of Aviation has placed the security officers on leave.

The practice of overselling flights and involuntarily bumping passengers is not uncommon or illegal, though it is typically figured out prior to boarding.

Airlines often overbook flights in order to compensate for “no shows.” When that happens, federal rules require airlines to first offer volunteers compensation in exchange for giving up their seats.

Anyone bumped against their will may be entitled to compensation, with a requirement of up to $1,350, and must be given a written statement detailing their rights and explaining how the airline decides who gets on an oversold flight and who doesn't.

Customers agree to these policies whenever they book a ticket and thus agree to an airline’s “contract of carriage.”

But the use of excessive force does not appear to be in accordance with airport security protocols.

Dao’s legal team said the city of Chicago also shares blame for the incident but said United is ultimately responsible for what happens on one of its planes. Demetrio said airline crew could have stepped in once they saw law enforcement becoming aggressive with Dao.

“The airplane is under control of the pilot. The pilot controls everything. He’s the boss,” Demetrio said. “Under the law, United Airlines is responsible for what occurs [on its aircraft.]”