United Passenger Has 'Every Right to Bring Legal Action'

, The National Law Journal

   | 9 Comments

United Airlines' reputation has taken a bruising since Sunday, when police forcibly removed a passenger from a flight in Chicago that the company initially said was overbooked. But will the airline face legal challenges as a result of the incident?

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What's being said

  • Marlene Browne

    The safety and well-being of UAL‘s passengers is the highest priority for United pilots, and this should not have escalated into a violent encounter. United pilots are infuriated by this event. This occurred on one of UAL‘s contracted Express carriers, separately owned and operated by Republic Airline, and was ultimately caused by the grossly inappropriate response by the Chicago Department of Aviation. It is important to review these baseline facts: 1. This violent incident should never have happened and was a result of gross excessive force by Chicago Department of Aviation personnel. 2. No United employees were involved in the physical altercation. 3. Social media ire should properly be directed at the Chicago Aviation Department. 4. This occurred on an Express flight operated by Republic Airline, as such, the flight crew and cabin crew of Flight 3411 are employees of Republic Airline, not United Airlines. 5. United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz has apologized for United Airlines, the actions of the Chicago Department of Aviation, and the actions of our Express partner, Republic Airline. On April 9, 2017, United Express Flight 3411, operated by Republic, was preparing to depart Chicago O’Hare (ORD) to Louisville (SDF). Republic Airline made the decision to assign four of their crewmembers to deadhead on Flight 3411 within minutes of the scheduled departure. Although four passengers would have to be removed from this flight to accommodate the Republic crew, the goal was to get the other 70 passengers on their way to SDF and ensure a flight crew needed the next day would also be in place. By all reports, the Republic flight crew was courteous and calm throughout the event, and three passengers left the flight voluntarily for compensation. After repeatedly asking the fourth passenger to give up his seat to no avail, the gate agent requested the assistance of law enforcement. For reasons unknown to us, instead of trained Chicago Police Department officers being dispatched to the scene, Chicago Department of Aviation personnel responded. At this point, without direction and outside the control of United Airlines or the Republic crew, the Chicago Department of Aviation forcibly removed the passenger. Members of local airport law enforcement are normally important security partners who assist aircrews in ensuring the safety of everyone on the airplane. This event was an anomaly and is not how United or the police are expected to treat passengers when there is no security threat.

  • NYCRealist

    While perhaps no one despises the plaintiffs‘ bar more than me, or thinks less of them and their parasitic existence, in this case, unlike SO many ridiculous claims that should be met with sanctions, a multi-million dollar punitive damages award would be perfectly justifiable.

  • MainLineMike

    Folks, let‘s all remember that none of us was there. We are all working from imperfect media reports and edited video. In that regard, I‘ve read in several reports that Dr. Dao had left the plane with his wife, and, after learning that this was the last flight of the day, he ran back onto the plane from the jetway. If I understand the sequence of events properly, that‘s when municipal security officers -- NOT UNITED EMPLOYEES -- physically removed him from the plane. There‘s no question that a great many things went wrong in this instance, and blame enough to lay on everybody involved. But unless there‘s something about air travel law that negates contributory negligence, it seems to me that he‘s going to have a tough fight to recover from United for any assault or battery claim.

  • Outraged

    I disagree with Miss Daisy. Let‘s focus instead on the airline‘s failure to mitigate - after all, it was their poor planning issue that gave rise to the incident in the first place. If their offer of compensation had been more generous, perhaps the doctor (or another passenger) would have agreed to surrender their seat - an unrestricted first class ticket is a powerful motivator. How about renting a private plane to fly their employees? How about offering limo service to the airport, a seat upgrade, and a night‘s stay at a really nice hotel? Instead, United chose to cheap out, by offering LESS compensation than regulations allowed. No surprise that they have problems finding people to "reacommodate". When I purchase a ticket to fly somewhere, I have made commitments to return at a certain time to my job, to children, spouse, petsitters, etc. My time is valuable, and I am the airline‘s customer. Except for emergencies, technical problems and weather, there is no excuse to "select" passengers for involuntary deplaning, especially to accommodate United‘s own employees. I believe it is my right to refuse to leave my seat if I do not want to be "reacommodated" for non-emergency or weather reasons. No one has the right to beat me and drag me from the plane. At that point, United should have looked for other options - they were available. Instead, they chose to assault their own passenger. I have directed my admin never to book me on this airline, because anyone could be next in experiencing this type of thuggish treatment.

  • Horrified in L.A.

    Miss Daisy, I totally disagree. At what point do we become sheep that blindly do what we are told just because they told us? Dr. Dao pleaded his case, and mind you, everyone said he was not belligerent and did not raise his voice. When he explained that he was a doctor and needed to see patients the next day they should have moved on to someone else. You also fail to mention that he started to give up his seat until he found out that the next flight would have put him at his destination the next day. He had patients to see! Even if the doctor had been belligerent, there is no excuse to treat anyone like that. To say that he brought it on himself -- you sound like someone else who we now call president. Yes, let‘s blame the victim.

  • D. A. Timm

    In my opinion, here are a few points to keep in mind: 1. This is not a "denied boarding." The doctor had already been allowed to board, and was seated peaceably in his assigned seat when United caused him to be assaulted, dragged off the plane, and subjected to great emotional distress. (If you doubt the distress, look at the later video when the bloodied and battered doctor is pleading emotionally to "just kill me.") 2. This is technically not an "overbooked" situation where an airline has deliberately oversold and too many ticket-holders show up. The plane was able to accommodate ALL ticket-holders, and indeed had done so. The problem arose when United decided, for their own commercial convenience, to add four employees to the plane. The decision was based solely on commercial interests; this wasn‘t a safety or overweight situation. 3. Even if the "Contract of Carriage" -- a huge document the purchaser would have to chase down to read and a perfect example of the type of Contract of Adhesion which is disfavored in law -- would permit the airline to change their mind and -- for their own commercial convenience -- refuse to carry him, exercising a contractual right in an unreasonable manner can be grounds for suit. I doubt the CoC contained a clause wherein the purchaser agrees to be assaulted, bloodied, and held up to ridicule. 4. What United should have done, when the doctor identified himself as a doctor and said he needed to be on the flight in order to see patients the next morning, would have been to select someone else to be "de-boarded". Why would United think it was appropriate to cause patients in Louisville not to be able to see their doctor? Two other thoughts: a. Provisions in the CoC are so loaded against the consumer that they could be violations of consumer protection laws -- if Congress had not immunized airlines from violations of state consumer protection laws in the Airline Deregulation Act (ADA). It is abuses like this by airlines that should cause Congress to re-look the ADA and subject airlines to the same consumer protections the customers have from other businesses. b. At the time of the ADA, there was true competition. The airlines have now consolidated to the point that some destinations are subjected to a monopoly, where only one or sometimes two airlines provide service. Access to air service is so critical these days that perhaps it is time to treat airlines as regulated monopolies -- like utilities -- instead of immunizing them.

  • Thinks

    AHHH, the smell of GOP victim blaming in the morning!!!! Heir Trump would be proud!!

  • tom

    Miss daisy took the words right out of my mouth. well said

  • Miss Daisy

    Of course he has a right to sue; anyone can sue anybody for anything. Will he win and how much is the real question. This guy, the so-called "victim" was the author of most of his own misfortune. At what point did he aggravate the circumstances, create his own damages and fail to mitigate? When he was instructed to leave the plane, several times, he should have gotten off then made his claim, legal or otherwise, later. He was dragged because he refused to walk; his choice. His damages, if any, should simply be for the inconvenience of a delay; he is responsible for anything beyond that.

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