David Dao, the doctor who was dragged off a United Airlines flight and found himself an instant internet celebrity as a result, has taken steps to sue the airline, and his lawyer said he is a “poster boy” for bullying by airlines.
Dao’s attorney, Tom Demetrio, of Chicago, and his daughter, Crystal Dao Pepper, appeared together at a news conference on April 13 in the infamous case that has sparked several viral videos.
“We owe each other an ordinary care standard,” said Dao’s attorney Demetrio on April 13 at the press conference. Airlines have the “highest” requirement of care for their paying passengers, he said.
“That was not done in this case,” Demetrio said, with Crystal sitting next to him. “I would defy anyone” to say there was not unreasonable “force or violence” used to get Dao off the plane, Demetrio said, adding that he had received many calls from employees and former employees from United, as well as other passengers.
He said people want “dignity” from airlines and that airlines have bullied people over the years and treated passengers like “cattle.” Dao understands “he’s the guy. He’s the guy to stand up for passengers going forward,” Demetrio said. The lawyer said that he received an email from someone calling Dao the “Asian version of Rosa Parks,” but the attorney said he didn’t think what happened to Dao was the result of his race, adding that he thought it could happen to anyone.
Demetrio said what happened to Dao was “horrible” and that United was “not off the hook here.”
Dao suffered a significant concussion as a result of disembarking that plane, and he had a serious broken nose, injury to the sinuses, and he is going to be undergoing shortly reconstructive surgery in that regard, said Demetrio, adding, “Yeah he lost two front teeth. He’s shaken.”
The only images the public has had of Dao since he was pulled off the flight by security: The viral videos from other passengers that generated international outrage, with many expressing support for Dao, and some family photos posted by Dao’s daughter on Instagram. Dao was not at the press conference, but his daughter was, and she spoke emotionally about him, saying her family was horrified by the incident and that he was a “wonderful” father and grandfather.
The 69-year-old Kentucky resident has an attorney who filed the first legal salvo in the incident on April 12, although he hasn’t yet filed a lawsuit.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Dao’s Attorney Filed an ‘Emergency Bill of Discovery’ & the Lawyer Is a Well Known Personal Injury Attorney
The legal document that represents the first public action in the case was filed in Cook County Circuit Court because the incident occurred while the United flight was sitting in Chicago, at O’Hare airport.
Demetrio said it wasn’t a matter of overbooking. “Four employees had to get to Louisville,” he said, criticizing the tone of the United CEO’s first comments about Dao. He said the airline could have “kept some seats open” for situations where crew members need to unexpectedly get somewhere else. He said the airlines should not act at the “physical expense” of “paying passengers.”
Demetrio said Dao’s lawyers are going to be vocal about the “whole subject of what we as a society say passengers are entitled to. Are we just going to continue to be treated like cattle, bullied, rude treatment.”
He added, “It’s us against them. Well, we’re them and this lawsuit among other things hopefully will create not just a national discussion but an international discussion on how we’re going to be treated going forward. ”
The petition says that David A.D. Dao was a passenger on United Express Flight No. 3411, scheduled to fly from Chicago’s O’Hare airport to Louisville, Kentucky.
“After being duly processed by the ticket agent, checked in by the attendant, and seated in his assigned passenger seat, Petitioner was forcibly dragged and removed from the said aircraft by City employees, sustaining personal injury,” the legal filing says.
The respondents were listed as the City of Chicago, which operates the airport, and United Airlines, which operated Flight No. 3411.
The lawsuit is asking in the court order that the following be preserved and protected: All surveillance video recordings depicting the boarding of the plane’s passengers on April 9, 2017, the day in question.
It also seeks preservation of the cockpit voice recording, passenger list, employee and crew list, all incident reports prepared by the respondents, the protocol of United Airlines “in force and effect for the removal of passengers from commercial aircraft” and “the personnel files of the Aviation Department police who removed Petitioner from the plane.”
The petition, which was signed by attorney Thomas A. Demetrio, says the preservation of the items is needed because Dao “currently has no access to them and believes that serious prejudice will inure to the Petitioner if said relief is not granted.”
The attorney for United passenger David Dao is a “high-powered personal injury lawyer” who has been involved in many prominent lawsuits, including those involving airplane crashes, The Chicago Tribune reports.
The other attorneys involved in the petition are Edward G. Willer and Stephen L. Golan. You can read more about Demetrio, who has made millions representing plaintiffs in airline disasters and other personal injury cases, here:
2. Dao’s Daughter Described Her Family’s Pain at the Press Conference
Dao’s daughter, Crystal Dao Pepper described her family’s pain at the press conference.
“My dad is a wonderful father. He has raised with my mother five great children. He is a loving grandfather…. our lives have been interrupted. Our normalcy is not where it was on Sunday morning,” Crystal Dao Pepper said.
The press conference took place at 11 a.m. in Chicago.
Crystal Dao said, “on behalf of my dad and my entire family, we would like to express our gratitude for the huge outpouring of prayers, concern and love that we have received from all over the world throughout these few days.” She also thanked the hospital staff “who have taken care of my dad.”
“It has been a very difficult time for our entire family, especially my dad…what happened to my dad should have never happened to any human being regardless of the circumstance,” said Crystal, who lives in Barrington, Illinois and is one of Dao’s five children with his wife, Teresa. “We were horrified and shocked and sickened to learn what had happened to him and to see what had happened to him. We hope in the future nothing like this happens again.”
In a previous written statement, Dao’s attorneys said he remained hospitalized for his injuries in Chicago as of April 11. The family is “appreciative” of the support directed their way since the incident occurred April 9, that statement said.
According to CNN, three Chicago Department of Aviation officers are on leave, and United’s stock has fallen as the airline struggles to deal with public fallout stemming from the incident.
3. The Viral Videos Sparked Great Outrage & United Has Released a Series of Statements Trying to Manage the PR Mess
Other passengers captured what happened to Dao with their cell phones and shared the videos on social media. They soon went viral, generating support for Dao and a public relations nightmare for United, which was hammered by Twitter criticism in particular.
After the press conference, United released another statement apologizing to Dao but contradicted his lawyer’s comments that Dao hasn’t talked with United’s CEO.
The United statement on April 13 reads:
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.
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.
First, we are committing that United will not ask law enforcement officers to remove passengers from our flights unless it is a matter of safety and security. Second, we’ve started a thorough review of policies that govern crew movement, incentivizing volunteers in these situations, how we handle oversold situations and an examination of how we partner with airport authorities and local law enforcement. Third, we will fully review and improve our training programs to ensure our employees are prepared and empowered to put our customers first. Our values – not just systems – will guide everything we do. We’ll communicate the results of our review and the actions we will take by April 30.
United CEO Oscar Munoz and the company called Dr. Dao on numerous occasions to express our heartfelt and deepest apologies.
The airline initially said its agents “were left with no choice” except to call Chicago Aviation Police to get Dao off of the flight. When they arrived, security officers were unable to get Dao to cooperate with their instructions and physically removed him through the aisle.
In the scuffle, Dao’s face struck an arm rest, and his mouth was bloodied. A short time after that point, officials got him off the plane, he returned to the cabin and ran to the back, holding onto an object and pleading to let him go home. Officials eventually subdued Dao and took him off the flight. The flight was delayed about three hours because of the incident.
At the press conference, Demetrio disputed that the airline’s actions toward Dao were in any way reasonable.
“This was not a troubled passenger. This was not a nut job. This was not a threat to anyone. He’s a 69-year-old man. Is that really the way we want to treat the aged?” asked Demetrio. He said that Dao found it more harrowing being dragged down the plane aisle than being a refugee fleeing Vietnam.
“We want fairness as a society,” Demetrio said. “We want disrespect, we want dignity. That’s it. It’s not a big deal. This seems so simple. Forget the law for a minute that requires common decency in the treatment of passengers, but just treat us with respect. Make us feel like you really care. And I must say I don’t think it’s limited to the airline industry. I think corporate America needs to understand that we all want to be treated in the same manner, with the same respect, and the same dignity as they would treat their own family members.”
Dao supporters are outraged that the airline treated Dao in that manner solely because it needed the seat for crew; Dao was a paying customer who said he was a doctor and had patients he needed to get home to treat.
The incident has thrust Oscar Munoz, United’s CEO, into the spotlight. Munoz has indicated that the airline is reaching out to Dao, according to Time Magazine.
Munoz also went on Good Morning America and described feeling “ashamed” after watching the video; according to Time, he “has promised to review the airline’s passenger-removal policy,” apologized to Dao and pledged “This will never happen again on a United flight. That’s my promise.” Police won’t be involved in future removals, and United representatives have been called to address the matter to a Chicago city committee after politicians expressed concern about the incident, Time reported.
4. The Legal Case Could Revolve Around Dao’s Injuries & Dao Has Much Public Support
According to Town and Country Magazine, a legal expert in aviation law, Arthur Wolk, said he thinks “Dao could sue for assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional disturbance, and may also have grounds to sue under various civil rights acts, in addition to that breach of contract.”
Nothing allows an airline to batter a passenger, he told the magazine, although airlines have the right to remove disruptive passengers. Dao could sue for millions, he said to the magazine.
Demetrio echoed this theme in the news conference, repeatedly emphasizing Dao’s injuries.
“Here’s the law, real simple,” Demetrio said. “If you’re going to eject a passenger, under no circumstances can it be done with unreasonable force or violence. That’s the law. If unreasonable force or violence is used… the common carrier, United Airlines, is responsible.”
The video evidence could be crucial in the legal case if the airline tries to claim Dao was unruly.
“Newly released footage appears to contradict United CEO Oscar Munoz’s claim that Dr. David Dao’s belligerence left officers with no choice but to forcibly remove him,” CNN reported.
A couple sitting behind Dao on the United flight recorded video and told CNN that Dao was “not belligerent” when he refused to leave the plane to make way for a flight crew and was only acting “mildly upset,” not raising his voice.
In the 20-second video, Dao says, “I won’t go, I’m a physician, I have to work tomorrow, 8 o’clock.”
The officer continues to ask him to leave the plane, and Dao threatens to “make a lawsuit” against United. Responding officials retort that they would have to drag him out. Dao responds by saying “you can drag me.” He says that he would “rather go to jail” than be forced to leave the plane.
The woman who filed the video posted on Facebook thaat she never once feared for her or her sons’ safety. She added that the airline has promised to refund her family’s plane ticket.
You can watch the new video here:
5. Dao’s Lawyers Say He Is a Poster Boy for Mistreatment of Airline Passengers & The Internet Created Another Frenzy by Mistaking Another David Dao for the Passenger
Dao’s lawyer, Demetrio, said Dao has become a poster boy for a broader societal problem.
“The airline industry has to figure out what do we do,” he said at the news conference. “…maybe the airlines need to start expecting the unexpected. But not at the expense, certainly not at the physical expense of its paying passengers.”
He said that he and Dao’s other lawyer are going to be “vocal” about the problem but also work hard to gather the facts in the Dao case.
“We all have enough oh I don’t know angst for flying as it is…but don’t treat the people that helped make you the corporate entity you are like Dr. Dao was treated,” said Demetrio.
He added, “Dr. Dao to his great credit has come to understand that he’s the guy. He’s the guy to stand up for passengers going forward. Yesterday, Mr. Munoz gave a interview on national television and he was asked point blank did Doctor Dao do anything wrong? You know what he did? He hesitated. He hesitated. Maybe he thought, Wow, where did that question come from. But then he regrouped, and he said no. He did nothing wrong. No one should have been treated the way he was treated, stating the obvious. But he didn’t state it initially. Initially he backed up his people. And that’s maybe the big part of the problem with the culture. It’s us against them.”
Adding to the intensity of the debate around the case: Social media erupted into a mini frenzy on April 12, with people claiming that the media had mixed up the passenger David Dao with another man with a criminal history. Many people have leapt to Dao’s defense, arguing that the doctor was wrongly treated by both the airline and also the media, for printing details of his past.
People insisted that the Dao who was dragged off the plane was a man with a different middle name than the man with the troubled past; however, the petition filed by Dao’s lawyers makes it clear that his name is David A.D. Dao, which is the doctor with the criminal history, not the man named by many on the Internet.
The Louisville Courier Journal, one of the news sites that was the target of internet scorn from those siding with Dao, wrote an article on April 12 entitled, “Yes, it was Kentucky doctor David Dao who was dragged off that United plane.” The story reports that, among other points of verification, “Kentucky court, property and medical licensure board records of 69-year-old Elizabethtown doctor David Dao match information provided by Chicago authorities, Dao’s attorneys and those who know the Kentucky doctor.” In other words, the media had the right David Dao all along.
A Louisiana doctor named by some on the Internet as the passenger is not the passenger dragged off the Internet flight; he’s significantly younger than the David Dao dragged off the plane, reports the Courier Journal.