Why Dao Will Lose United Airlines Lawsuit, Even After They Dragged Him Off a Plane
Police simply removed a passenger who was refusing to follow the instructions of the cabin crew
April 23, 2017
Chances are you've seen the video ten times. Louisville doctor David Dao is dragged off United Airlines Flight 3411, bloodied and screaming, after refusing to surrender his seat for a United employee.
Dao said he had paid for the seat, and needed to get home and see patients. But his boarding pass didn't matter to the United terminal staff. They called the cops, who dragged poor Dr. Dao off the plane.
Sounds like a good lawsuit, right? The kind any ambulance chasing lawyer would kill to represent? Wrong, actually, and I speak as an experienced former trial attorney who frequently arrived before the ambulance did. Here's why.
That last fact is the important part, legally speaking. Again: United Airlines did not actually drag Dr. Dao off the plane. Chicago airport police did. Citizens are free from civil liability for true reports to police, and police officers are free from civil liability when carrying out their duties.
Sovereign immunity, or crown immunity, is a legal doctrine by which the sovereign or state cannot commit a legal wrong and is immune from civil suit or criminal prosecution. There are exceptions for violations of Federal Civil Rights, under 27 U.S.C. Section 1987. The problem is, the right to fly is not a civil right. It is simply a contractual obligation between United and Dao, and the Chicago police were not a party to that contract.
When the O'Hare Airport Police got involved, they were told to remove a passenger who was refusing to follow the instructions of the cabin crew. Nothing about the preceding sentence is untrue. Trained to deal with middle-eastern terrorists rather than midwestern doctors, the police applied their training to Dao and solved the problem. None of us would ever even have heard about the incident, had it not been for the ubiquitous presence of cellphone cameras.
One of the officers who removed and dragged the passenger was placed on administrative leave soon after the incident; the other two officers were placed on administrative leave on April 12. The Chicago Department of Aviation said that "The incident on United Flight 3411 was in accordance with our standard operating procedure and the actions of the aviation security officer are obviously not condoned by the Department..." That won't matter though.
What matters is that United Airlines employees did not remove Dr. Dao from flight 3411. O'Hare police did, and they were following policy and procedure. Dao v. United Airlines will be thrown out of court on summary judgment and will never make it to a jury. If United ever pays Dao anything, it will be purely as a public relations measure.
It is worth mentioning that Dao is a terrible plaintiff. He has felony convictions for overprescribing drugs in exchange for sex. Dao lost his medical license over that incident, and has acted liked an opportunist since the incident. Dao wasn't injured all that badly, yet has exaggerated his injuries to try and improve his case. The staff pleaded with him to leave for ten minutes prior to calling the cops. He may suffer from some form of autism--most people would have just walked off the plane. Dao ran back on the plane after being dragged off.
None of this helps his case.
Also, International treaty with the force of federal law limits in flight damages to $75,000, except in cases of death. Attorneys fees and costs will exceed that. So even if he wins, he won't win much.
A few more facts from Wikipedia:
On April 9, 2017 just before 5:20 p.m., O'Hare International Airport police forcibly removed passenger David Dao from United Express Flight 3411 after he refused to depart the airplane upon the demand of management. Dao screamed as officers pulled him out of his seat, and his face hit an armrest during the struggle. Officers then dragged him, apparently unconscious, by his arms on his back along the aircraft aisle past rows of onlooking passengers.
He was later seen with blood around his mouth. Prior to the confrontation, managers offered compensation to passengers to vacate their seats to make room for four airline employees who needed to travel to the destination, Louisville International Airport, but none of the fliers accepted. Four passengers were then selected for involuntary removal from the flight. Three other passengers complied, and Dao was selected to be fourth.
Republic Airline operated the scheduled passenger flight on behalf of United Express, a United Airlines regional branch.
Video of the incident recorded by passengers went viral on social media, resulting in outrage over the violent incident. Politicians expressed concern and called for official investigation. U.S. President Donald Trump criticized United Airlines, calling treatment of their customer "horrible".
United CEO Oscar Munoz issued an initial statement which appeared to justify the removal of the unwilling passenger, referring to it as "re-accomodating the customers". Munoz also sent an email to United staff commending the crew's actions for following established procedures, and referring to Dao as "disruptive" and "belligerent". Munoz was sharply criticized by the public for his apparently unsympathetic reaction to Dao's treatment. Two days after the incident he issued an additional statement, apologizing and promising that this type of incident would never happen again on United aircraft. He said, "No one should ever be mistreated this way".
Aviation police receive more training and better pay compared to private security guards, but less training and less pay than officers of the Chicago Police Department. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Express_Flight_3411_incident