United Airlines (UAL) will likely face a lawsuit from David Dao, the doctor who was violently dragged off an overbooked flight on Sunday, Dao’s attorneys said in a wide-ranging press conference in Chicago Thursday.
“Will there be a lawsuit? Probably,” said Thomas Demetrio, one of the two aviation lawyers representing Dao. He hinted there could be multiple defendants, saying “just because United is responsible, doesn’t mean the city of Chicago isn’t responsible.”
Demetrio said that the experience of being dragged off the plane was more traumatizing for Dao than fleeing Vietnam in 1975. He said his client suffered a severe concussion and a broken nose, and lost two front teeth. Dao spent several days in the hospital after the April 9 incident, and was released late Wednesday night, according to his lawyers.
The legal team offered few details on the timing or details of the likely suit, noting that it would likely come “much sooner” than the legal window of two years after an incident.
Demetrios played down the possibility of a class-action suit, saying he believes what happened to Dao was exceptional. “Rudeness and bullying of customers has gone the next step now to injury,” he said.
Demetrio also said that he hadn’t heard from the company’s CEO, but United countered that claim in a statement shortly after the press conference.
In the statement, United apologized to Dao and detailed changes it was making, including no longer using law enforcement officers to take passengers off a flight and reviewing policies and training programs.
“We continue to express our sincerest apology to Dr. Dao. We cannot stress enough that we remain steadfast in our commitment to make this right,” the statement said, in part. “This horrible situation has provided a harsh learning experience from which we will take immediate, concrete action. We have committed to our customers and our employees that we are going to fix what’s broken so this never happens again.“
“United CEO Oscar Munoz and the company called Dr. Dao on numerous occasions to express our heartfelt and deepest apologies,” the statement concluded.
Dao, a 69-year-old doctor, is the father of five children, his lawyer said. One of them, Crystal Dao Pepper, gave a brief statement at the press conference in which she thanked the audience for its support.
Read on for a play-by-play of how the conference unfolded Thursday morning (times are Eastern).
It gets political
11:55 - Demetrio indicates that President Donald Trump’s bent toward deregulation is the wrong way to go, and says he supports pending legislation from Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Illinois) to address airline overbooking. “The principal needs to take charge here of the student,” Demetrio says.
11:52 - Dao’s team has asked for the names of the officers who took the doctor off the plane, Demetrio says. He says he doesn’t know their names or the unions they belong to.
11:46 - Demetrio declines to say where Dao is, saying he’s in “a secure location.” He reiterates the family’s request for privacy. “Just leave this guy alone.”
Scant lawsuit details
11:44 - Dao’s legal team has two years to file a lawsuit, Demetrio says, but promises that the process won’t take that long. He doesn’t specify a time, and adds that it will be in state court.
11:42 - United Airlines has not reached out to Dao’s legal team, Demetrio says. “I have no quarrel with that.”
“I’m not looking for a telephone conversation with Mr. Munoz,” he says, referring to United CEO Oscar Munoz. He adds that he would rather Munoz “change the culture” at the company. “His public apology to the family we accept, with gratitute.”
11:36 - There probably won’t be a class-action suit, Demetrio tells the audience. “Class-action lawsuits are a different breed and I don’t believe this will be” one, he says. Nonetheless, he references what he calls airlines’ habitual bad treatment of customers.
“I hope he becomes a poster child,” he says, about Dao. “Someone ought to.”
11:33 - Demetrio is not impressed with Munoz’s apology. “I thought it was staged,” he says, in response to an audience question.
11:31 - Demetrio implies that United’s move to refund passenger fares on Dao’s flight is suspect.
“One wonders why they would do that,” he says. “But it’s not going to keep these people quiet about what they observed.” He added that the legal team had heard from other passengers on the flight who witnessed the incident and who, according to him, were disturbed by it.
11:25 - “There is a culture of rudeness on airlines,” Demetrio says, adding that Sunday’s incident “went beyond rudeness.”
“Rudeness and bullying of customers has gone the next step now to injury.”
11:23 - “Just because United is responsible, doesn’t mean the city of Chicago isn’t responsible,” Demetrio says, appearing to foreshadow a lawsuit.
11:19 - Demetrio calls the officers who dragged the doctor off the flight “stormtroopers.”
According to Demetrio, Dao, who left Vietnam in 1975, was more traumatized by his forceable removal from the flight than fleeing his country at the height of the Vietnam War. “He said that being dragged down the aisle was more horrifying and harrowing than what he experienced in leaving Vietnam,” Demetrio says, relaying a conversation with his client.
11:16 - Dao was discharged from the hospital late Wednesday night, Demetrio says. He says Dao had “a serious broken nose, injury to the sinuses” and lost two front teeth, plus a “serious concussion.”
“He’s shaken,” Demetrio adds.
11:15 - Demetrio downplays the role of race in the incident. “I think what happened to Dr. Dao could have happened to anyone” he says. He references an email whose sender called Dao “a modern-day Asian Rosa Parks,” a heroine of the U.S. civil rights struggle in the 1960s, who refused to surrender her bus seat to a white passenger. But he disagrees with that characterization of Dao.
11:14 - Dao’s daughter, Crystal Dao Pepper, gives a brief statement. “What happened to my dad should never happen to any human being, regardless of circumstance,” she says, and thanks the audience for their support.
“Treated like cattle”
11:12 - “We’re going to be vocal about the whole subject of what we, as a society, say passengers are entitled to,” Demetrio says. “Are we going to continue to be treated like cattle?”
11:09 - “Will there be a lawsuit? Probably,” Demetrio says. He notes there is a court hearing on the incident scheduled for Monday.
Demetrio: “Airlines have bullied us”
11:06 - “For a long time, airlines, United in particular, have bullied us,” Demetrio says. “They have treated us less than maybe we deserve. I’ve concluded that based upon hundreds of tales of woe, of mistreatment, by United, is that, here’s what we want as a society. We want fairness in how people treat us; we want respect and we want dignity.”
11:03 - Thomas Demetrio opens the conference. Crystal Dao Pepper, one of Dao’s five children, will speak later, he says.
Lawyers for the Kentucky doctor who was dragged off an overbooked United Airlines flight are speaking out publicly for the first time, a day after filing court papers that likely presage a lawsuit.
Thomas Demetrio and Stephen Golan, aviation lawyers who are representing David Dao, are set to hold a press conference at Chicago’s Union League Club at 10 a.m. local time. Crystal Dao, one of Dao’s five children, is also set to speak.
On Wednesday, Dao’s lawyers filed an emergency request with an Illinois state court to require United to preserve video recordings and other evidence related to the April 9 incident, in which Dao was forcefully dragged away from his seat on the overbooked flight to make room for crew members. The flight, which was supposed to depart from Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, had been bound for Louisville, Kentucky.
Citing the risk of “serious prejudice” to Dao, the filing asks that the airline and the City of Chicago, which runs the airport, to preserve surveillance videos, cockpit voice recordings, passenger and crew lists, and other materials related to United Flight 3411.
The filing with the Cook County Circuit Court likely presages an eventual lawsuit against United, and possibly the City of Chicago, for the incident.
Dao’s ordeal reached a global audience this week when a video of him being dragged off the flight went viral.
United CEO Oscar Munoz on Wednesday said the company would no longer use law enforcement officers to remove passengers from overbooked flights.
The officer who dragged Dao away, and two other security officers, have since been placed on leave ; the aviation department said the officer’s actions “are obviously not condoned.”
The backlash from the incident resonated globally, with social media users in the United States, China and Vietnam calling for boycotts of the No. 3 U.S. carrier by passenger traffic and an end to the practice of overbooking flights.
Delta Air Lines (DAL) CEO Ed Bastian told Reuters that overbooking was “a valid business practice” and did not require additional oversight by the government.
“It’s not a question, in my opinion, as to whether you overbook,” Bastian said during a Wednesday earnings call. “It’s how you manage an overbook situation.”
Footage from the incident shows Dao, bloodied and disheveled, returning to the cabin and repeating: “Just kill me. Kill me,” and “I have to go home.”
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