Man Dragged Off United Flight Takes Steps Toward Lawsuit

Dr. David Dao  Attorneys press conference - Crystal Dao Pepper - Getty-H 2017
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Dr. David Dao's daughter and lawyers held a press conference Thursday morning: "For a long time, airlines — United in particular — have bullied us. They have treated us less than we deserve."

Dr. David Dao, the Kentucky physician who was violently dragged off a United flight Sunday and captured on a video that has since gone viral, has taken steps towards filing a lawsuit against the airliner, the man's attorney confirmed during a news conference Thursday morning.

"We're gathered here because of a rather disturbing video that went viral, as things do in our world today," opened attorney Thomas Demetrio, who said the media interest spurred their decision to host a news conference. Demetrio was joined by Dao's daughter, Crystal Pepper, for the televised address from Chicago.

"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," he explained. "We owe each other an ordinary care standard," he continued, "but in the world of common carriers, they have the highest duty of care to provide protection and safety to its fare-paying passengers. As we all saw on the video, that was not done."

After receiving what Demetrio described as hundreds of tales of mistreatment from other passengers who have reached out in light of the video, he said, "For a long time, airlines — United in particular — have bullied us. They have treated us less than we deserve. … The whole culture has to change."

On Wednesday, they filed an emergency motion in Cook County Circuit Court asking a judge to ensure the preservation of the surveillance video, cockpit voice recordings, incident reports and other materials. The hearing is set for Monday at 10 a.m. in Chicago.

"Will there be a lawsuit? Yeah, probably," said Demetrio, adding that it's a process and that the hearing is to preserve "certain evidence we're going to need down the line." He said he hopes the actions they take will ultimately spur all airlines to fix the "over-overbooking situation" and prevent any future use of excessive force by airlines on passengers.

"When we file our lawsuit it's going to be because every word, every preposition is in that lawsuit for a reason," he said, adding that they are doing their due diligence "about the whole subject of what we, as a society, say passengers are entitled to." He shot down the idea of a class-action lawsuit, hoping that Dao is the only one to have received such treatment.

"Are we continued to be treated like cattle? Bullied? Rude treatment?" he asked. "We all have enough angst for flying as it is. But don't treat the people who help make you the corporate entity you are, like Dr. Dao was treated."

United CEO Oscar Munoz had offered his second apology on Wednesday's Good Morning America, saying, "You saw us at a bad moment. This can never — will never — happen again." He also said he and the airline had repeatedly reached out to the family but had not received a response.

But the lawyers confirmed that the 69-year-old father of five had yet to hear directly from the airline.

Dao was not present at the conference. Demetrio said he was discharged late Wednesday night from the hospital and is still healing. He suffered a "significant" concussion, a broken nose, injury to the sinuses and is going to undergo reconstructive surgery, as well as losing two front teeth. "He's shaken," said Demetrio.

During the conference, Pepper offered her thanks and gratitude, calling it a difficult time for her family. She added that seeing the video only exacerbated her and her family's emotions.

"What happened to my dad should have never happened to any human being," she said. "Regardless of the circumstance. 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."

Demetrio took questions from the press, shooting down accusations that the incident was racially motivated — after stating that someone had referred to Dao as the "modern-day Asian Rosa Parks" — as well as reports that Dao had attempted to strike the United employees who removed him from the plane.

He then shared what Dao relayed to him about the incident. He called it "more horrifying and harrowing than what he experienced in Vietnam," said Demetrio, adding that Dao has no interest in flying again in the future.

After the conference concluded, United released a statement, continuing to express its "sincerest apology" and reinforcing how both Munoz and the airline called Dao. The statement outlined steps United plans to take by April 30 after stating how the situation has provided a "harsh learning experience from which we will take immediate, concrete action." Read the statement in full below.

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. 

April 13, 12:45 p.m. ET: Updated with United statement.