Lawyers file law­suit against United

Re­moved flier’s le­gal bat­tle be­gins

The Washington Times Daily - - NA­TION - BY LAURA KELLY

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 judg­ment,” 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 nondis­clo­sure 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.

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.

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.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

“What hap­pened to my dad should have never hap­pened to any hu­man be­ing re­gard­less of the cir­cum­stance,” says Crys­tal Pep­per, daugh­ter of Dr. David Dao at news con­fer­ence Thurs­day in Chicago. Dr. Dao was the pas­sen­ger who was forcibly re­moved from a United flight. At­tor­ney Steve Golan de­tailed Dr. Dao’s in­juries.

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