Lawyers for the man forcibly removed from a United Airlines flight last week in Chicago spoke today in front of television cameras for the first time since the incident.
Speaking in Chicago on Thursday, personal injury lawyer Tom Demetrio said he and another lawyer, Stephen Golan, would be legally representing the family of David Dao, the man who boarded a flight to Louisville, Ky., last Sunday evening before the airline called in Chicago Department of Aviation security officers to forcibly remove him from the flight so that airline employees could travel in his place.
The 69-year-old Dao suffered multiple injuries as a result of his violent, videotaped ejection, and was in hospital until Wednesday evening.
"Will there be a lawsuit?" Demetrio asked, rhetorically. "Yeah, probably," he said, before later adding that they are not ready to sue yet, as they have not completed their legal due diligence.
Demetrio, who counts personal injury lawsuits related to air travel among his specialities, has negotiated well over $1 billion US in settlements over a 40-year career, including numerous record-setting personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits.
According to his website, he has never lost an appeal.
In addition to his lawyers, one of Dao's daughters, 33-year-old Crystal Pepper, also spoke.
"What happened to my dad shouldn't have happened to any human in that circumstance," she said, thanking the public outpouring of support, and the medical professionals who took care of her father.
"We were horrified and shocked and sickened to see what happened to him. We hope that in the future nothing like this happens again."
Demetrio says Dao suffered a concussion, a broken nose, and lost two teeth in the altercation. Videos of the incident showed Dao returning to the plane after he had been removed from it, but Demetrio says his client has no memory of that.
"He has no interest in ever seeing an airplane [again]," Demetrio said, adding that he hopes Dao becomes a posterchild that changes the industry as a whole.
"For a long time, airlines — United in particular — have bullied us," Demetrio said. "They have treated us as less than we deserve."
Demetrio said Dao is "the guy to stand up for passengers moving forward."
Dao was ejected from the flight to make room for airline employees who needed to get to Louisville to work flights the following day, or risk delaying hundreds more passengers. But Demetrio says that's not an acceptable excuse for what happened.
"Maybe we keep some seats open for that emergency situation when a pilot or a copilot has to get to a destination unexpectedly," Demetrio said. "Maybe airlines have to start expecting the unexpected."
For its part, United reiterated its previous apology to Dao on Thursday. "We continue to express our sincerest apology to Dr. Dao," the airline said in a statement after the Dao's press conference. "We cannot stress enough that we remain steadfast in our commitment to make this right."
"This horrible situation has provided a harsh learning experience from which we will take immediate, concrete action," the airline said, including a commitment to never again "ask law enforcement officers to remove passengers from our flights unless it is a matter of safety and security."
"We have committed to our customers and our employees that we are going to fix what's broken so this never happens again."
Demetrio and Golan have already asked an Illinois court to order United to preserve recordings and other evidence of what happened on board the plane.
While suggesting what happened to Dao was "disturbing," Demetrio rejected the allegations of racism that some have levelled at United, suggesting he was singled out because of his ethnicity. Dao came to America from Vietnam during the fall of Saigon in 1975.
"What happened to doctor Dao could have happened to anyone," Demetrio said.
"This lawsuit will create a national discussion on how we're going to be treated going forward."