United Airlines: David Dao's lawyers say he may file a lawsuit — which could see him paid millions

Experts say Mr Dao has a 'very good case' against the airline

Emily Shugerman
New York
Friday 14 April 2017 10:18
Comments
United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz
United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz

Lawyers for the passenger dragged from United Airlines flight 3411 say he may file a lawsuit — and experts say he could expect a payout of millions.

Passenger David Dao was forcibly removed from the plane on 10 April, after refusing to give up his seat for United crew members. Mr Dao, who had purchased a ticket and boarded the plane, was removed from the flight after the airline randomly selected him to deplane. He sustained various injuries from the removal.

Video of Dr Dao’s removal sparked outcry online when fellow passengers posted it on social media. Commenters accused the police of abuse of force, and the airline of racially profiling Mr Dao, who is Asian. United stock prices dropped 4.4 per cent in the days following.

At a press conference on Thursday, lawyers hired by Dr Dao said they would “probably” file a lawsuit. The day before, they filed an emergency petition asking United Airlines and the city of Chicago preserve all evidence relevant to this case.

“This lawsuit will hopefully generate not just a national discussion, but an international discussion about how [passengers] are going to be treated going forward,” attorney Thomas Demetrio said on Thursday.

If Dr Dao does sue, experts say he won’t just generate a discussion — he may generate a sizeable settlement, too.

"My view here is Dr Dao has a very good case against United Airlines," Aviation law expert Arthur Wolk told Town & Country. "If I were United Airlines, I'd be all over him to try to get him to accept a reasonable compensation and to go away."

Jens David Ohlin, associate dean for academic affairs and professor of law at Cornell Law School, said the airline made several mistakes in removing Mr Dao. According to United Airlines terms, they can deny boarding to passengers if the flight is oversold. But Mr Dao wasn’t denied boarding — he had already boarded the plane. Plus, the flight wasn’t oversold. United selected passengers to deplane in order to make room for their own crew.

“Bottom line is that if the airline wants to bump you from the aircraft, it must deny you boarding,” Ohlin wrote in a blog post. “...If the airline doesn’t like this, it should have written a different contract.”

Other United Airlines terms state that the airline can remove passengers who are “disorderly, offensive, abusive, or violent,” but experts say that is a weak defence in this case. Video from before Mr Dao’s removal show him calmly telling officers why he cannot leave the plane. Fellow passengers said they were not concerned for their safety until the police officers arrived.

Aside from the airline, Dr Dao may also have a case against the Chicago police department. Mr Demetrio on Thursday accused the responding officers of using excessive force. He said Dr Dao had sustained a concussion, a broken nose, and two lost teeth.

"If you're injured, or dragged off the airplane, or falsely arrested, you can sue," Andrew Harakas, head of the aviation law group at Clyde & Co, confirmed to CNN.

Three officers from the Chicago Department of Aviation have been put on leave pending an investigation of the incident, according to department spokespeople.

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