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.
Dao, 69, is the Kentucky doctor dragged off an United Airlines flight and into the realm of viral internet celebrity. He’s being represented by a legal team spearheaded by attorney Thomas “Tom” Demetrio, who is based in the Chicago area.
“There is a culture of disrespect, rudeness,” Demetrio said in a press conference on April 13 in the Dao case, but he said that, in Dao’s case, “rudeness, bullying the customers has gone the next step now to injury.”
Appearing at the press conference alongside Dao’s daughter, Crystal Dao Pepper, Demetrio told the assembled media, “Here’s the law, real simple. 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.”
Dao, through his attorneys, has taken the first step toward a lawsuit with a legal filing seeking to preserve evidence. He also has a second lawyer on his team: Stephen Golan of the Chicago firm Golan Christie Taglia. Dao has not yet formally sued, but Demetrio said that the City of Chicago might be liable in addition to United.
Demetrio has been involved in major cases, and he’s reaped millions of dollars in personal injury lawsuits, including those involving aviation incidents.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Demetrio, Who Was Involved in Football Concussion Cases, Said People Want ‘Dignity’ From Airlines
Demetrio’s attorney said that he hoped Dao would become a “poster child” for people who stand against bullying by airlines. He tried to paint Dao’s case as being part of a broader context of rudeness in society and by airlines in general. He said many people have experienced bad treatment by airlines, although he said he would be surprised to learn that anyone has been physically injured like Dao.
“We owe each other an ordinary care standard,” Demetrio said 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 no unreasonable “force or violence” used to get Dao off the plane. He said 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. “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.”
It’s not Demetrio’s first trip to the high profile case rodeo.
According to The Chicago Tribune, Dao’s attorney “has a long history of winning big settlements for his clients.”
Demetrio 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 Tribune reports. “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 $1 billion settlement.” (Demetrio told the media in the press conference that, in addition to other injuries, Dao suffered a concussion while being dragged off the airplane.)
“Tom Demetrio being hired means that liftoff for United just became far more difficult,” said Chicago lawyer Bob Clifford to Chicago Business.com. “Tom Demetrio knows the inside and the outside of aviation litigation as well as and better than most, and not only will he well represent the good doctor, he will make a difference to force United to change its conduct . . . Now they have that many more reasons to fret and make amends for what occurred.”
2. Demetrio Won a Multi Million Dollar Verdict in a Scaffolding Case & Recently Listed His $5.9 Million Lake Forest Mansion for Sale
Demetrio’s legal track record includes a scaffolding accident that netted the victims $75 million.
The Chicago Tribune reported that the attorney “was one of the lead attorneys representing victims of a 2002 scaffolding accident at the John Hancock Center that injured seven and killed three women. The 10 victims collectively received $75 million in a settlement.”
The law has been lucrative for the 69-year-old Chicago-area lawyer. In January 2016, reported the Chicago Tribune, Demetrio “listed his five-bedroom, 10,507-square-foot mansion in Lake Forest for $5.9 million.” The newspaper said the lawyer “has owned many high-priced residential properties in Chicago and the suburbs over the years. He paid $5.5 million in May 2011 for the French Normandy-style mansion…Demetrio said he’s ready to move back to the city, where his past properties have included a Gold Coast mansion that he sold to JPMorgan Chase Chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon in 2000 for $4.68 million.”
3. Demetrio Was Dubbed the ‘Everyman’s Lawyer’ & Dao’s Attorney Has Already Filed an ‘Emergency Bill of Discovery’
In a profile story, Super Lawyers called Demetrio an “everyman’s lawyer” who must convince juries to put a value on people’s pain and suffering. Among his cases, “Bob Hauck, a father of four from suburban Chicago, who, 23 years ago, in the prime of his life, was severely burned and paralyzed in a roofing accident.” He gave Hauck a French oil painting hanging in his office after the verdict because Hauck had commented on it, said the story.
In the Dao news conference, Demetrio clearly tried to position Dao as representing many people who have felt mistreated by airlines. To some degree, it could be a jury tactic: Make Dao the ultimate “everyman.”
“It’s us against them,” the lawyer said at the news conference. “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.”
Super Lawyers quoted Cook County Circuit Judge Thomas Hogan as saying of Demetrio. “He has an ability to connect. He doesn’t condescend to a jury. They understand that he’s an advocate and that he has fulfilled the promise he made to them at the opening statement.”
His brother’s death long ago from an appendectomy led to his interest in medical malpractice, and he served in the Army Reserves during the Vietnam era, Super Lawyers said.
Demetrio has already filed a legal motion in the Dao case. A legal document filed by Demetrio on April 12 represented the first public action in the case. It was filed in Cook County Circuit Court because the incident occurred while the United flight was sitting in Chicago, at O’Hare airport.
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 listed in the lawsuit were 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 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 other attorneys involved in the petition are Edward G. Willer and Stephen L. Golan.
4. Demetrio Has Handled Aviation Cases Before & Was Previously President of the Chicago Bar Association
It’s not Demetrio’s first time handling cases in the area of aviation. His website says “Thomas A. Demetrio of Corboy & Demetrio is a trial lawyer with an emphasis on medical negligence, product liability, airplane crash and commercial litigation on behalf of plaintiffs. He is Past President of the Chicago Bar Association and Illinois Trial Lawyers Association.”
He represented “the widow of a man who was on board the plane that crashed and killed pop singer Jim Croce in Louisiana in 1973,” reported Super Lawyers, as well as “clients in some of the country’s deadliest air disasters.” He also handled the case of two Japanese girls “killed when a sightseeing plane crashed in the Grand Canyon.” He also represented the families in the 1994 USAir crash in Pittsburgh.
Demetrio’s law fir website bio says he has earned many accolades during his long legal career. “Tom has been listed in Best Lawyers in America since 1987 and was named by Best Lawyers as the Chicago Medical Malpractice Lawyer of the Year for 2011. In 1990, Tom was named by the National Law Journal as one of the Nation’s Top Ten Trial Lawyers. In 1999, Tom was listed first by the National Law Journal in its list of the top ten trial lawyers in Illinois. In 2014, the National Law Journal named Tom one of 50 litigation ‘Trailblazers and Pioneers,’” the site says.
The public learned more from Dao’s lawyer about Dao’s intentions at the press conference on April 13. At the press conference, Dao’s daughter, Crystal Dao, accompanied Demetrio. “We were completely horrified and shocked…seeing it on video made those emotions exacerbated,” Crystal Dao Pepper said.
“Please leave the guy alone. Let him go,” Demetrio said to the news media after Dao’s daughter spoke. He said Dao is in a secure location and repeatedly stressed that Dao was mistreated and physically injured by the airline.
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 in the wake of public outrage over the incident.
5. Demetrio Helped September 11th Families & Does Other Volunteer Work
Demetrio is no stranger to high-profile situations. He “has done pro bono work for families who lost loved ones on Sept. 11—both in the towers and on the plane,” Super Lawyers reported.
Demetrio’s website says, “Tom is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. Tom is a longtime member of the law school’s Board of Overseers and, since 2011, its Chairman.”
He was named one of “125 Alumni of Distinction” by the law school in November 2013, says the website, and “also serves as a member of the Boards of: Big Shoulders – Archdiocese of Chicago, the Center for Disability & Elder Law and the Constitutional Rights Foundation of Chicago. He also serves on the Dispute Resolution Research Center Advisory Committee at the J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management of Northwestern University.”
He’s involved in community service efforts.
“Tom is a past member of the Board of Trustees of IIT and the Board of the University of Notre Dame’s Law School, St. Ignatius College Prep, Mundelein Seminary and the Trial Lawyers for Public Justice, Center for Conflict Resolution,” says his law firm’s website. “Tom is the founder of the Lawyers Lend-A-Hand to Youth and funds the Thomas A. Demetrio Lend-A-Hand Award of Excellence annually, which is given to the most exemplary established Chicagoland area tutor/mentor program.”
In the case of Dao, anger at his treatment spread throughout social media.
Other passengers came to Dao’s defense and captured what happened to Dao with their cell phones. Some of those people then shared the videos on social media. They soon went viral, generating intense support for Dao and a public relations nightmare for United, which was hammered by Twitter criticism in particular. Many people believe that Dao was done wrong by the airline.
United has 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.
Dao supporters are outraged that the airline physically dragged Dao off the plane 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 went on Good Morning America and described feeling “ashamed” after watching the video, a different tone than he adopted right after the incident broke; 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.