CHICAGO — The passenger forcefully removed from a United Airlines flight this week has a concussion and broken nose, his attorney told reporters Thursday, adding that the 69-year-old physician will file a lawsuit.
Already, attorneys have filed a chancery motion asking that all evidence in the case be preserved. David Dao’s attorney, Thomas Demetrio, would not provide a timeline for filing the lawsuit other than to say he had two years to do so, and “I promise you it won’t be that long.”
“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 said. “For a long time, airlines — United, in particular — have bullied us. … We want respect and we want dignity. That’s it. Not a big deal.”
The lawsuit will be filed in Cook County Circuit Court in Illinois, the lawyer said, indicating it would target both the airline and the city of Chicago, whose Department of Aviation was involved in removing Dao from the plane.
Broken teeth, nose
Dao suffered “a significant concussion as a result of disembarking that plane,” Demetrio said in a news conference in Chicago.
He also lost two front teeth, has a broken nose and incurred injuries to his sinuses, and will be “undergoing reconstructive surgery in that regard,” Demetrio said.
The attorney further said that Dao had conveyed to him that “being dragged down the aisle was more horrifying and harrowing than what he experienced in Vietnam” when he was on a boat after the 1975 fall of Saigon.
Dao “has no interest in ever seeing an airplane again” and will likely take a car home to Kentucky, the attorney said, adding that his client has “absolutely zippo” memory of the incident.
Dao’s daughter, Crystal Dao Pepper, also appeared at the news conference. She said her parents were returning home from vacation and making a connection in Chicago out of California. She described her dad as a “wonderful father” and “loving grandfather.”
“My dad is healing right now, and that’s all I have to say,” she said.
‘It wasn’t even a matter of overbooking’
As millions saw via traditional and social media, Dao was aboard a Louisville, Kentucky-bound flight out of Chicago on Sunday night when Chicago aviation security officers forcefully pulled him from his seat and dragged him down the aisle of United Airlines Flight 3411.
His fellow passengers looked on, many of them filming the situation. United would say later it had to remove Dao to make room for four of its own employees, who needed to get to Louisville.
Demetrio seemed to take issue with the assertion the flight was overbooked.
“It wasn’t even a matter of overbooking. It was a matter of at the last moment, four employes had to get to Louisville so they could get to work the next day,” he said. “We take money from people, we let them sit on the airplane, seat belted. Are we really going to start taking them off then?
The airline offered compensation at first, but when that didn’t convince enough passengers to take a later flight, it picked Dao randomly. In video shot by Joya and Forest Cummings, who were sitting behind him, Dao repeatedly refuses to disembark, explaining he is a physician and must work in the morning. (Demetrio told reporters Thursday that Dao’s wife is a doctor as well and also had patients to see Monday.)
Passengers back Dao
Passenger Jayse Anspach told CNN that Dao and his wife initially agreed to take a later flight but recanted upon learning that this flight wouldn’t take off till Monday morning.
“He was very emphatic: ‘I can’t be late. I’m a doctor. I’ve got to be there tomorrow,’ ” Anspach recalled.
The Cummingses said Dao was not belligerent and got only mildly upset when a second security officer arrived, demanding he leave the plane, they said. Dao never raised his voice, the couple said.
As security officers pry Dao from his seat, he screams. In video shot after the altercation, streaks of dry blood run from the Kentucky doctor’s mouth. Passengers said he hit his head on an armrest.
Asked later what was injured, Dao said “everything,” CNN affiliate WLKY-TV in Louisville reported. He was discharged from the hospital late Wednesday, Demetrio said.
Did CEO misspeak?
United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz initially said Dao was belligerent, leaving security officers no choice but to employ force in removing him.
Munoz later struck a tone of contrition, telling ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Wednesday that he felt “ashamed” over the incident and vowed never again to let law enforcement remove “a booked, paid, seated passenger” from a plane.
As for Munoz’s earlier claim that Dao was at fault due to his belligerence, the CEO changed his heading, telling the morning show, “He can’t be. He was a paying passenger sitting on our seat in our aircraft, and no one should be treated like that. Period.”
Though Munoz said he attempted to contact the Dao and his wife, Demetrio said he feels Munoz “misspoke,” adding that that didn’t happen. As for Munoz’s public apology, Demetrio said he accepted it but it felt “staged.”
“I’m not looking for a telephone conversation with Mr. Munoz,” he said. “I’d rather he spend his time changing the culture of United Airlines.”
Three Chicago Department of Aviation officers are on leave following the incident, and the airline’s stock plummeted amid boycott threats.
A United spokesperson told CNN affiliate WBBM, “All customers on flight 3411 from Sunday, April 9 are receiving compensation for the cost of their tickets.” In an email obtained by CNN, the airline told its passengers it was offering them $500 flight vouchers but only if they agreed not to sue the company. CNN has reached out to United for additional details.
The incident repulsed many United customers, some protesting by cutting up their United mileage cards.
“My new #united card. Not planning to fly them any more after this,” Josh Perfetto tweeted.
United took a hit on the stock market. Shares in United Airlines slipped by 4% Tuesday, and the company’s market value plummeted by $1 billion.
Could happen to anyone
Anyone can be kicked off an overbooked flight against their will. It’s an oft-overlooked policy to which passengers agree when they book tickets.
Overbooking is legal, and most airlines do it in anticipation of no-shows, the US Department of Transportation said.
In 2015 alone, 46,000 customers were involuntarily bumped from flights, according to the Department of Transportation.
United Airlines reaction
United Airlines released the following statement in the wake of the news conference on Thursday morning:
“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.”