United we sue: Lawyer tells media, "Could have happened to any one of us"

What kind of a deal can you make when a plane is overbooked? On the upside, passengers can score a few hundred bucks and some meal vouchers. On the downside, you can get your teeth knocked out and your nose broken — or so argues the attorney representing Dr. David Dao, whose ejection from a United Airlines flight went viral this week. Thomas DeMetrio told a press conference this morning that Dao has left the hospital but will still require reconstructive surgery and has to recover from the concussion caused by security personnel who dragged him off of the flight. Needless to say, DeMetrio and Dao want United to pay up — and the city of Chicago, too:

Why include the city of Chicago? It was their law-enforcement personnel who conducted the physical removal of Dao from the aircraft, and DeMetrio’s team wants access to their records of the incident. Making them a party to a future suit allows them to demand discovery — and access to deep pockets, too. Chicago’s airport police have suspended three officers in connection to the incident:

Lawyers for the passenger dragged from a United Airlines plane in Chicago filed an emergency request with an Illinois state court on Wednesday to require the carrier to preserve video recordings and other evidence related to the incident.

Citing the risk of “serious prejudice” to their client, Dr. David Dao, the lawyers want 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 United Flight 3411.

Chicago’s Aviation Department said on Wednesday that two more officers had been placed on leave in connection with the April 9 incident, during which airport security officers dragged Dao from his seat aboard a United jet headed for Louisville, Kentucky. One officer was placed on leave on Tuesday.

Nonetheless, DeMetrio argued, the use of “unreasonable force and violence” to effect an involuntary removal for an overbook situation violates the law, and makes the airline responsible for damages:

The lawsuit hasn’t yet been filed, but …

You bet there will be a lawsuit at the end of this — unless United and Chicago head one off. If United Airlines is smart, they’ll settle this as fast as possible. The longer this incident remains in the headlines, the worse beating their reputation will take. Chicago might want to fight its inclusion in the lawsuit simply because they don’t have anywhere near the same amount of risk to reputation or business, but under the circumstances, it’ll be easier to settle for them too. DeMetrio knows what he’s doing by holding press conferences; the longer United takes to open the checkbook, the more of them we’ll get with each discovery item. Pay us now … or pay us later.

Interestingly, DeMetrio took a pass on playing the race card. Despite getting correspondence from one supporter who claimed that Dr. Dao was the “Asian Rosa Parks,” DeMetrio insisted that the real story is that this “could have happened to any one of us.” That’s a much better argument for rallying the maximum amount of public sympathy, of course, but notable nonetheless.

Addendum: DeMetrio may be foreswearing the race card, but he’s happy to remind everyone of Dao’s life experiences in Vietnam as a comparison:

Hyperbole? Yeah, you bet — but that one’s still gonna sting at United.

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