United Passenger Suffered Concussion, Broken Nose, Lawyer Says

  • Dao will ‘probably’ sue as legal team researches incident
  • Airlines have ‘bullied us’ for too long, attorney tells media

United Passenger's Lawyer Says Airlines Bully Customers

The passenger dragged off a United Continental Holdings Inc. flight suffered a concussion, a broken nose and two lost teeth, one of his lawyers said Thursday.

The injured man’s legal team is investigating possible legal claims and will “probably” sue, attorney Thomas Demetrio said. Video posted to social media showed David Dao being pulled from his seat and dragged down the aisle after refusing to give up his spot.

“For a long time, airlines, United in particular, have bullied us,” Demetrio said in a press conference in Chicago, where the incident took place. “Rudeness, bullying of customers, has gone the next step now, to physical injury.”

News of Dao’s injuries increased pressure on United, which is still contending with the fallout from a public-relations fiasco that erupted when the video went viral. Chief Executive Officer Oscar Munoz initially called Dao “disruptive” and “belligerent” and apologized only for the need to “re-accommodate” him. Munoz later struck a more contrite tone in nationally televised interview.

On Thursday, he spoke to several hundred United employees near Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, according to two people who attended. Workers rose to give him an ovation when Munoz said he didn’t intend to leave the company, after an employee expressed concern he might have to resign, the two said.

‘Decent Settlement’

Dao, 69, hasn’t yet sued, and because he essentially resisted arrest, he may not have a legal claim, according to Kevin Hopkins, a professor at John Marshall Law School in Chicago. But he’ll probably get a "decent settlement” because of the media attention surrounding his removal from the plane and his press conference.

“In the court of public opinion, he’s going to win,” Hopkins said.

While it was right for Munoz to apologize on national television for the incident, Demetrio called the United boss’s apology “staged” at the urging of public relations advisers.

Megan McCarthy, a spokeswoman for United, declined to respond to that characterization. Munoz and the company called Dao “on numerous occasions” to apologize, contradicting an assertion by Demetrio that they hadn’t, according to a statement from the airline following the press conference.

The Chicago-based company also reiterated that it is taking steps to prevent future incidents, including committing to only asking law enforcement to remove passengers in matters of safety and security.

“This horrible situation has provided a harsh learning experience from which we will take immediate, concrete action,” United said in the statement. “We have committed to our customers and our employees that we are going to fix what’s broken so this never happens again.”

The shares fell 1.2 percent to $69.07 at the close in New York, capping a 2.6 percent slide this week.

Reconstructive Surgery

Dao, who was discharged from the hospital April 12, also suffered injury to his sinuses and will need reconstructive surgery, Demetrio said. Dao, a doctor, had to return to Louisville to see patients, Demetrio said. His wife, who is also a doctor and was on the flight, also had patients to see, the lawyer said. They were returning home from a vacation in California.

Crystal Pepper, Dao’s daughter, said the whole family was “shocked and sickened to learn what had happened to him.”

Dao, who came to the U.S. from Vietnam in 1975 during the fall of Saigon, said being dragged down the airplane aisle -- on an April 9 flight from Chicago to Louisville, Kentucky -- was “more horrifying” than what he experienced leaving Vietnam, Demetrio said.

The city of Chicago, for whom the officers worked, is also responsible, Demetrio said. “Were these three officers, these storm troopers, doing the right thing? No,” he said.

Additional Pressure

By casting Dao as a representative for other aggrieved passengers, his lawyer may have put additional pressure on United to improve its treatment of customers, said Todd Henderson, a law professor at the University of Chicago who teaches torts and corporate law.

“Because everybody is rightfully outraged by what happened and because of the probability of this happening in the future, you can start to see the public benefit from this guy,” Henderson said.

— With assistance by Justin Bachman

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