Dragged passenger David Dao begins legal action against United Airlines, as CEO tells of ‘shame’

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 April, 2017, 8:16am
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 April, 2017, 9:26pm

The passenger dragged from his seat aboard a Sunday night flight at O’Hare International Airport took the first step toward potential legal action against United Airlines or the city on Wednesday.

Dr David Dao, who has retained a high-powered personal injury lawyer, asked the Cook County Circuit Court for an order requiring United and the city of Chicago to keep all video, cockpit recordings and other reports from the flight, along with the personnel files of the Aviation Department officers who pulled Dao from the plane.

The request was filed a few hours before the Chicago Department of Aviation said it had placed two more officers on administrative leave until further notice as a result of the incident. Another employee already had been placed on leave, and the city said it continues to review the incident.

Early Wednesday, United CEO Oscar Munoz put a human face on the airline’s apology over the incident, saying in an interview with Good Morning America that he felt “shame” when watching viral videos of Dao being dragged down the plane’s aisle.

Munoz previously had addressed the incident in written statements on the airline’s website.

“This will never happen again on a United Airlines flight,” Munoz said on TV, apologising to Dao, his family, passengers on that flight and United’s customers and employees. He said he took full responsibility for the situation but has no plans to resign.

United passenger David Dao breaks silence, saying he’s still in the hospital and ‘everything’ is injured

Munoz had issued a statement Tuesday night apologising for the incident, comments that came after United’s first apology had added more fuel to the backlash. Asked Wednesday why his initial remarks failed to mention that sense of shame, Munoz said he wanted to first “get the facts and circumstances,” but that his earlier remarks “fell short” of expressing what he felt.

Criticism of the incident and United’s initial response has included calls for Munoz’s resignation, but the United CEO said he’s not going anywhere. “I was hired to make United better, and we’ve been doing that. And that’s what I’ll continue to do,” he said.

Munoz also said he doesn’t think Dao was at fault in the incident. “He was a paying passenger sitting in our aircraft. No one should be treated that way,” he said.

Dao, who has retained lawyer Thomas Demetrio, was in a Chicago hospital undergoing treatment for his injuries Tuesday, according to a statement from Demetrio.


United CEO finally apologises to passenger dragged from plane

Demetrio has a long history of winning big settlements for his clients. He was one of the lead attorneys representing victims of a 2002 scaffolding accident at the John Hancock Centre in Chicago that injured seven and killed three women. The 10 victims collectively received US$75 million in a settlement.

Demetrio also has represented former NFL and NHL players and their families in concussion litigation against the leagues, including the family of late Chicago Bears safety Dave Duerson. The Duerson family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the NFL in 2012, which became part of a class-action case that resulted in a US$1 billion settlement.

Asked what Dao deserves from United after the incident, Munoz said, “Certainly an apology.” The airline has tried to contact him, unsuccessfully, Munoz said. “From that point on, we’ll have to see.”

A spokeswoman for Demetrio’s firm said Dao and attorneys were not available to comment Wednesday.

Munoz also said United already has decided it will no longer call on law enforcement to remove passengers from oversold flights once on board.

“To remove a booked, paid, seating passenger, we can’t do that,” he said.

Munoz said the airline needs to give its employees more latitude to be flexible in trying to resolve situations like the one on the Sunday flight without resorting to calling in law enforcement.

Munoz on Tuesday promised a thorough review of United’s policies for handling situations where it has sold more tickets than seats available, including how it offers incentives to customers to take a later flight, and how United works with airport authorities and local law enforcement.

The airline also has compensated the 70 passengers on Dao’s flight for the value of their tickets, said United spokesman Charlie Hobart.

Dao was one of four passengers involuntarily bumped from a United Express flight from Chicago to Louisville, Ky., after airline employees failed to find volunteers willing to switch to a later flight. When Dao repeatedly refused to leave his seat, employees called in security personnel from the city’s Aviation Department, who dragged him off the aircraft.

US Representative Jan Schakowsky said she plans to introduce legislation that would bar airlines from involuntarily bumping passengers from overbooked flights and require airlines to seek volunteers to switch to later flights before boarding.

“If an airline chooses to oversell a flight, or has to accommodate their crew on a fully booked flight, it is their responsibility to keep raising their offer until a customer chooses to give up their seat,” Schakowsky said in a news release Wednesday.

Currently, airlines have to try to find volunteers before involuntarily bumping passengers, and typically do offer compensation. If they can’t find volunteers, any passenger moved to a later flight is compensated based on the price of their ticket and the length of their delay, up to a maximum of US$1,350.