Can United Be Sued For Dragging Passenger Off Plane?
As everyone now knows, Dr. Dao was violently drug off a United Airline plane this week, bloodied and screaming, at Chicago O’Hare International Airport. He refused to give up his seat on a flight to Louisville, Kentucky for commuting United employees. The video of the incident has gone viral and has grabbed the attention of the world.
As a result, United is dealing with a PR nightmare and it’s stock has taken a devastating hit as a result.
Dr. Dao is currently in the hospital recovering from his injuries. The video of the incident clearly shows that as the police were extricating Dr. Dao from his seat they caused him to violently strike his head against a metal armrest.
As you might imagine, Dr. Dao has hired lawyers and will likely file suit. But does he have a case?
Absolutely he does. In fact, Dr. Dao will likely be a millionaire after this is all said and done. So what can he sue for?
Dr. Dao undoubtedly has a claim for Breach of Contract (Count I). United Airline’s contract for carriage does provide a list of reasons that allow the airline to deny boarding. However, that is not the case here, Dr. Dao was allowed to board. Presumably, Dr. Dao was welcomed aboard as he walked on to the plane.
Once Dr. Dao boarded and sat in his seat, United lost its ability to remove Dr. Dao (unless he was being violent or belligerent which the video clearly shows he was not). Consequently, when United removed Dr. Dao, they breached their contract with Dr. Dao by refusing to transport him.
Dr. Dao’s second claim is for assault and battery (Count II). In Illinois, an assault occurs when someone engages in conduct that places another person in reasonable apprehension of receiving a battery. A battery occurs when a person causes bodily harm to another or makes insulting or provoking physical contact with another.
As you can see in the video, Dr. Dao was pulled off the plane bloodied and screaming by police. Dr. Dao never consented to the use of such force, and he did nothing to allow the police to take the action they did. Dr. Dao has a claim for assault and battery and United is liable. Additionally, the City of Chicago will also likely be liable for the actions taken by the police officers.
Dr. Dao’s third claim is for intentional infliction of distress (Count III). A claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress exists when “one who by extreme and outrageous conduct intentionally or recklessly causes severe emotional distress to another. As a result, that person (or company i.e. United) is subject to liability for that emotional distress and for any bodily harm.
Clearly, the method by which United removed Dr. Dao from the airplane was extreme and outrageous. United Airline’s own CEO, Oscar Munoz, described the event as horrific and publicly apologized on behalf of the airline. Undoubtedly, this event has caused, and will continue to cause Dr. Dao emotional distress. As a result, Dr. Dao has a claim for emotional distress and United is liable.
Dr. Dao may also have grounds to sue under defamation of character and under various civil rights acts.
United has two choices: to voluntarily pay Dr. Dao for his injuries and his emotional distress; or allow a jury to decide whether Dr. Dao is entitled to compensation for his injuries and emotional distress and then force United to pay if they are liable. I seriously doubt United will allow the latter and risk a devastating financial loss.
Dr. Dao has a very good case against United Airlines.