United apologizes — again — after attorney describes dragged passenger's injuries

The man who was dragged off a United Airlines flight suffered a broken nose and concussion and lost two front teeth, according to lawyers who are preparing a lawsuit against the Chicago carrier.

The passenger, Dr. David Dao, was discharged from a hospital Wednesday night but still will undergo reconstructive surgery to repair the injuries he received after being yanked from a plane that was scheduled to fly from Chicago to Louisville, Ky., on Sunday night.

Dao’s attorney, Tom Demetrio, blamed a “culture of disrespect and rudeness” at United, adding that Dao escaped Vietnam by boat in 1975. Sunday’s experience “was more horrifying than leaving Vietnam,” he said.

Dao’s daughter said her father and her four siblings are shaken by the incident and were “completely horrified and shocked” by the video.

“What happened to my dad should not have happened to any human being under any circumstance,” Crystal Dao Pepper said.

United Airlines issued yet another apology Thursday in response to the comments by Demetrio and Dao’s daughter. The company also vowed to review its policies and employee training to avoid such an ugly scene in the future.

“This horrible situation has provided a harsh learning experience from which we will take immediate, concrete action,” the airline said. “We have committed to our customers and our employees that we are going to fix what’s broken so this never happens again.”

Worldwide furor was sparked by video and photos, captured on other passengers’ cellphones, of airport police dragging a limp Dao off the crowded plane to make room for company personnel.

The outcry put pressure on United Airlines Chief Executive Oscar Munoz to apologize more than once. He appeared on television Wednesday after issuing statements on the incident Monday and Tuesday.

“Like you, I continue to be disturbed by what happened on this flight, and I deeply apologize to the customer forcibly removed and to all the customers aboard,” Munoz said. “No one should be treated that way.”

Demetrio, a prominent personal injury lawyer, filed a petition Wednesday for a court order to preserve evidence of the incident. A hearing on the request is scheduled for Monday morning.

The flight was fully booked, but United sought to clear out four seats to make room for four United employees who needed to be in Louisville the next day. After asking for volunteers and offering up to $800 and a hotel stay, United picked four passengers to be removed. Dao was among those picked, but he refused to leave.

Dao and his wife were returning from a vacation in California and had boarded the connecting flight to head home to Elizabethtown, Ky.

Demetrio described Dao as being respectful during the incident. “He was not a trouble passenger, not a nut job,” the attorney said. “He just wanted to go home.”

The three airport police officers have been put on administrative leave as the city reviews the incident.

The attorney also said neither he nor Dao’s family have received a direct apology from Munoz — contradicting the airline chief, who said he reached out to the family to offer his apology.

Demetrio declined to discuss what kind of damages Dao might seek in a lawsuit, saying he doesn’t know the extent of the physical, emotional or psychological damage the man suffered. But, he said, the airline did not have the right to use “unnecessary force and violence” to remove a passenger who is not a threat.

“Common carriers have the highest duty of care to provide protection and safety to its fare-paying passengers,” he said, adding that the Chicago airport police who dragged Dao from the plane share in responsibility for the incident.

The lawyer also spoke out against airlines that overbook flights, as well as a culture of disrespect and bullying. Dao is going to “stand up for passengers going forward,” he said.

Demetrio had a hand in winning several large settlements over the years, including a $1-billion class action settlement of concussion litigation against the NFL and NHL and a $75-million award for 10 victims of a 2002 scaffold collapse at a Chicago high-rise that killed three and injured seven.

The Chicago Tribune contributed to this report.

hugo.martin@latimes.com

Twitter: @hugomartin

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UPDATES:

3:25 p.m.: This article was updated with background about attorney Tom Demetrio.

1:30 p.m.: This article was updated with new comments from United.

12:40 p.m.: This article was updated to include a response from United Airlines.

11 a.m.: This article was updated to indicate that Dao and his wife were traveling home from a vacation in California.

9:30 a.m.: This article was updated with additional comments from Dao’s attorney and Dao’s daughter, as well as additional background information.

9 a.m.: This article was updated throughout with Times staff reporting.

8:20 a.m.: This article was updated with comments from Dao’s attorney and previous statements from Oscar Munoz.

9:16 a.m.: This article was updated to include more details from Thursday’s press conference.

This article was originally published at 8 a.m.

In an earlier version of this article, United Airlines Chief Executive Oscar Munoz was incorrectly quoted as saying: "No one should ever be mistreated this way."
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