As United Airlines circles the wagons, a lawyer for dragged passenger David Dao laid out his closing argument for the lawsuit to come, at a packed news conference Thursday morning.
Tom Demetrio said his client suffered a broken nose, injury to his sinus, lost two front teeth, and will undergo reconstructive surgery. He also said Dao suffered a concussion, saying “concussions are iffy conditions,” adding, “I don’t know ultimately” the “long term” impact, and “hopefully there will not be any significant repercussions, but he is shaken.”
Dao has has no memory of having rushed back on the plane minutes after he was dragged out, as caught on passenger video, Demetrio said.
United Airlines has not reached out to Dao’s lawyers, Dao’s other lawyer at the presser Stephen Golan, or to Dao or his family, Demetrio, Golan and Crystal said, seeming to contradict United Airlines’ CEO Munoz, who yesterday told Good Morning America he and his people had reached out but without luck.
Video went viral of the 69-year-old paying passenger on a Sunday flight from Chicago to Louisville, Ky, screaming as he was pulled out of his seat and dragged down the aisle by airport authorities who had been summed by United. This after Dao was selected by United to be one of four passengers booted from the flight to accommodate United employees, after passengers declined United’s $800 voucher offer to get off the plane.
“It wasn’t a matter of overbooking, it was a matter of, at the last moment, four employees had to get to Louisville so they could go to work the next day,” Demetrio insisted. “United needs to start expecting the unexpected, but not at the expense, the physical expense of its paying passengers.”
Demetrio accused United of treating Dao and other passengers from whom he says he has heard since the incident “like cattle,” adding that they have been “bullied” when they already have “enough angst flying” these days. “Don’t treat the people who help make you the corporate entity you are, like Dr. Dao was treated,” the lawyer scolded.
In one amusing moment Demetrio said United CEO Oscar Munoz has taken to airwaves and has given his view of things – a couple versions of it, the lawyer said – including an exclusive interview with Good Morning America, adding Munoz he probably would have given the interview to Charlie Rose if he had been able.
Munoz, who first said in a memo to staff that Dao had been “disruptive” and “belligerent,” while staff had followed company protocol during the incident, issued an apology the next day when company stock plummeted while TV news outlets feasted on the story. Munoz promised a “thorough review.” On GMA, Munoz called it a “system failure” and said he would “expand” company policy to prevent this from happening again to a paid seated passenger. When asked if Dao was at fault, Munoz had paused – which Demetrio noted at Thursday’s presser – then admitted, “No. He can’t be.”
Munoz having gotten his TV time, Demetrio said he thought it right that his client should get some too, “to put this video in perspective of my world, of law.”
“If you’re going to eject a passenger, under no circumstance can it be done with unreasonable force or violence. That’s the law. If unreasonable force or violence is used under a set of circumstances, the common carrier, United Airlines in this case, is responsible,” he said.
Asked what Dao had meant when, as he was being dragged, he was heard saying “just kill me,” Demetrio said his client left Vietnam in 1975 “when Saigon fell and he was on a boat and he was terrified. He said being dragged down the aisle was more terrifying and harrowing than what he experirenced in leaving Vietnam. That was his response to me, and so I give it to you.”
“United in particular has bulled us. They have treated us as less than maybe we deserved,” the lawyer said, basing it on “hundreds of tales of woe of mistreatment by United.”
“Here is what we want as society: we want fairness in how people treat us. We want respect, and we want dignity. That’s it. Not a big deal. This seems so simple. Forget the law for a minute. That requires common decency in treatment of passengers. Just treat us with respect. Make us feel like you really care,” he said.
Dao’s daughter spoke very briefly, saying it has been a difficult time for the family and thanking well-wishers. “What happened to my dad should never happen to any human being,” she said.
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