United Airlines traveller 'broke his nose, lost teeth in scuffle'

Civil rights leader Jesse Jackson leading a protest at O’Hare International Airport on Wednesday. Some US lawmakers have called for new rules on airlines’ overbooking of flights.
Civil rights leader Jesse Jackson leading a protest at O’Hare International Airport on Wednesday. Some US lawmakers have called for new rules on airlines’ overbooking of flights. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Lawyer says man who was dragged off overbooked plane will likely sue airline

CHICAGO • The passenger manhandled by airport security officers ordered to purge him from a United Airlines plane suffered a concussion, broke his nose and lost two front teeth during the scuffle, said his lawyer, adding that his client will likely sue the company.

Dr David Dao, a 69-year-old Vietnamese-American doctor, was hospitalised after Chicago aviation police dragged him off the plane as the airline sought to make space on a flight from the city's O'Hare International Airport to Louisville, Kentucky.

Video footage of the incident taken by other passengers and showing Dr Dao being dragged down the plane aisle and with a bloodied mouth circulated rapidly, causing public outrage that was not calmed by the airline's initial response to the case.

"For a long time, airlines, United in particular, have bullied us," said his lawyer, Mr Thomas Demetrio, during a press conference with Dr Dao's daughter Crystal in Chicago yesterday. "Will there be a lawsuit? Yeah, probably."

His client, who was discharged on Wednesday night, suffered a "significant" concussion, a broken nose, injury to the sinuses, and lost two front teeth and would require reconstructive surgery, said Mr Demetrio.

Citing the risk of "serious prejudice" to their client, Dr Dao's lawyers on Wednesday asked for United and the City of Chicago, which runs O'Hare International Airport, to preserve surveillance videos, cockpit voice recordings, passenger and crew lists, and other materials related to Flight 3411, Reuters reported.

Chicago's Aviation Department said on Wednesday that two more officers had been placed on leave in connection with the incident. One officer was placed on leave on Tuesday.

United is looking at a legal claim, but they are also looking at a huge public relations and business problem," said Mr Justin Green, a partner at the law firm Kreindler & Kreindler in New York, who represents airline passengers. "I think United, if they're smart, will quickly and quietly settle the case."

United chief executive Oscar Munoz has sought in the last two days to make amends, saying the company would stop using law enforcement officers to remove passengers from overbooked flights and would examine the way it compensates customers who volunteer to give up their seats on overbooked planes.

The carrier promised to compensate all passengers on the flight for the cost of their tickets.

Meanwhile, a new video has emerged showing Dr Dao arguing with security officers just before he was pulled out of his seat.

The new video, which the Daily Mail said was taken by a passenger sitting behind Dr Dao, shows him talking on the phone as a police officer and a flight attendant stand in the aisle.

He tells them: "I'm a physician, have to work tomorrow, 8 o'clock."

He speaks on a mobile phone and tells the person on the line that "they want to remove me right now". He also talks about "a lawsuit against United Airlines".

"No, I'm not going," he says, shaking his head. "I'm not going, you can drag me... I'm not going... I'm staying right here."

The officer says: "I'm just telling you, it's going to be a lot harder for you." And Dr Dao replies: "Yes I know that, I'd rather go to jail."

He then says he had flown from Los Angeles, and has had a long flight. "I spent almost 24 hours," he says.

The video is cut off then.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 14, 2017, with the headline 'United Airlines traveller 'broke his nose, lost teeth in scuffle''. Print Edition | Subscribe