- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 13, 2017

The passenger who was violently removed from a United flight this week suffered a concussion, a broken nose and injury to his sinuses, and also lost two of his teeth, his lawyer told a press conference in Chicago on Thursday. 

Attorneys for Dr. David Dao, the passenger at the center of the drama, said he was discharged from a Chicago hospital Wednesday night but will have to undergo reconstructive surgery. He is currently in a “secure location,” and is asking the press to respect his privacy. 

Dr. Dao was thrust into the public spotlight this week when video of him being forcefully removed from United Express Flight 3411 went viral.

Dr. Dao’s daughter, Crystal Pepper, said at the press conference that the family was overwhelmed with support from people all over the world. 

“What happened to my dad should have never happened to any human being regardless of the circumstance,” she said at the press conference. “We were horrified and shocked and sickened to learn what had happened to him and to see what had happened to him.”

Chicago-based attorneys Thomas Demetrio and Steve Dolan said they are planning to file a lawsuit on behalf of Dr. Dao and already have moved to protect and preserve evidence for their case, including surveillance videos, cockpit recordings, and passenger and staff lists. A hearing on that matter is set for 10 a.m. Monday in Chicago.

Mr. Demetrio said they want to complete an investigation before filing a lawsuit. 

“It’s just not a matter of throwing the video up and asking the jury, OK who wins? So it’s a process, but Dr. Dao, to I believe to his great credit, has come to understand that he’s the guy, to stand up for passengers going forward,” he said.

The suit will focus on the physical and other damage incurred by Dr. Dao, but Mr. Dimetrio did not rule out the possibility of taking on overbook regulations in the industry.

“Maybe airlines need to start expecting the unexpected, certainly not at the expense, the physical expense of its paying passengers,” the attorney said. “We’re going to be vocal about the whole subject of what we as a society say passengers are entitled to. Are we just going to be continued to be treated like cattle, bullied?”

Stanley Rosenblatt, a Florida-based attorney, said Dr. Dao has a very good chance of receiving millions of dollars, and not just in compensation, but as punitive damages against United.

“Juries tend to get vey angry when an innocent person who has done nothing wrong is humiliated,” he said.

Mr. Rosenblatt is not associated with this case, but in 2000, he helped win a class-action lawsuit against Big Tobacco, securing $145 billion in punitive damages in the biggest jury payout in U.S. history.  

He said the Dao case could be “a game changer,” a watershed moment that could potentially lead to a “difficuly … but doable” class-action lawsuit against the airline industry.

“I think from now on they will be very, very careful, and there will be substantial changes in all the airlines in their overbook policies. They’re not going to ever be in the situation where someone is forcibly removed from an airplane, and it was an outrageous incident and they used very poor judgement,” he said.

Lee Pearlman, a criminal and personal injury lawyer also from Florida, said it’s unlikely the case will ever see the inside of a courtroom, and that Dr. Dao likely will a settlement in the millions. 

“What is it worth to United to never let this see the inside of a courtroom? Get a non-disclosure agreement signed to never talk about it again and let it slowly die,” he predicted.

United Airlines already had promised this week never again to forcibly kick passengers off aircraft and offered refunds to all the passengers on the Chicago-to-Louisville flight.  

Both Mr. Pearlman and Mr. Rosenblatt also noted that United seems to have broken the federal law they cited as their defense. The contract of carriages lets airlines remove ticketed passengers already on the flight because of an overbooking situation, but it doesn’t allow those passengers to be bumped for employees, as happened here. 

“There is nothing that allows them [United] to do that under the law, under their own agreement it doesn’t allow them to do that,” Mr. Pearlman said. 

The use of law enforcement employed by the city of Chicago adds another layer to the legal case. Three officers involved in the incident have been put on administrative leave.

Moving forward, Mr. Demetrio added that Dr. Dao and the family accept the public apology from United, but that CEO Oscar Munoz had not personally reached out to the family.

On Wednesday night, Mr. Munoz sought to reinforce his apology for the incident in an interview with ABC News. He claimed a “system failure” resulted in Dr. Dao’s treatment. 

“We have not provided our front-line supervisors and managers and individuals with the proper tools, policies, procedures that allow them to use their common sense,” he told ABC on Wednesday night.

Mr. Munoz told ABC he felt “ashamed,” when he first saw the video, but his first reaction was to understand the facts and circumstances. “My initial words fell short of truly expressing what we were feeling,” he told the channel. 

Asked if he thinks his latest statement on the matter is too little too late, he answered that it’s “never too late to do the right thing. My initial reaction to the process was to get facts and circumstances, and my words failed.”

He was then questioned over a Los Angeles Times article that interviewed California businessman Geoff Fearns, who alleged that on a United flight a week earlier, he was threatened with handcuffs by staff if he didn’t give up his seat for a higher priority passenger. 

“I heard about that I don’t know any of the details,” Mr. Munoz told ABC, “but probably a good example of why our policies need to be reexamined.”

He added that Dr. Dao is not at fault. “No, he can’t be … no one should be treated that way period,” he said. 

Yet some are calling for Mr. Munoz to resign. 

“This was caused by a human. Corporations are run by people,” said crisis management expert Eric Schiffer. “The board should step up and amputate the problem and the problem starts and ended with the CEO.”

Mr. Schiffer, who founded a branding crisis-management firm in California, said United made a good move in accepting responsibility and its changing its policies. 

“This was a huge damage to the brand and the brand sentiment. It’s not quantifiable in stock value because this is one of the silent killers and many people will not fly this airline because of how it went down and it didn’t have to. The man didn’t have to go through this horrific event, had the policy just been different.”

 

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