Remarks by Ralph Nader on the United Airlines Settlement with Dr. David Dao
April 27, 2017
For Immediate Release
United Airlines speedy and secret settlement, announced today, with Dr. David Dao could not have happened without the superlawyer, Tom Demetrio, handling Dr. Dao’s case. United lawyers did not want to go to depositions and to trial with Atty. Demetrio. But they got something in return that was not that beneficial to the larger cause of airline passenger safety and respect.
First, the settlement amount was secret. That raises unanswered questions about why a key deterrence from this tragic episode was surrendered. People remember how much negligent corporations like United Airlines had to pay in settlements; but they can’t remember a secret settlement. The alleged injuries, beside mental distress and embarrassment, were a concussion, a broken nose and two lost teeth. I asked three experienced trial attorneys how much they think United should have paid out. One estimated $150,000 and another guessed $1,000,000. The third plaintiff lawyer said $10,000,000, adding that you don’t settle this kind of case receiving adverse worldwide condemnation for anything less. United got bad publicity, to be sure, but corporations have any uncanny talent for getting through such uncomfortable experiences and returning their brand to normal. What they cannot overcome is how much they had to pay out in raw dollars. That is because it elevates the next level of expectations by people whom they abuse as to what they should recover. Disclosure also doesn’t help their relationships with their employees and their shareholders.
In this case, it is not known what Atty. Demetrio in turn received for his client by signing a gag agreement since just about everybody around the world watching the news learned about the dragging-out-of-the-plane episode.
Additional speculation comes from whether or not the client, Dr. Dao, insisted on getting this whole ordeal over, with a settlement sum he could live with but that could have been larger after depositions and/or beginning a public trial by jury.
What is most surprising is what Atty. Demetrio gave to United Airlines. He lavished praise on United’s announced changes, which of course are unenforceable, in treating its passengers. Atty. Demetrio could have urged the Congress to pass a comprehensive airline passenger bill of rights legislation that has been blocked for years by airlines like United. Instead, astonishingly, he declared: “I sincerely hope that all other airlines make similar changes and follow United’s lead in helping to improve the passenger flying experience with an emphasis on empathy, patience, respect and dignity.” Hello! Southwest, Jet Blue and other airlines do not drag passengers off their planes. They don’t charge extra for your putting baggage in the bins above your seat like United now does. Some do not charge you for leg room or for checking bags or for buying your tickets at airline ticket counters the way United Airlines does. Southwest doesn’t charge for changing reservations the way United Airlines does. If anything, United Airlines is bringing up the rear, lagging not leading.
Lastly, I hope United’s attorneys did not try to offer Atty. Demetrio his fee on the side, apart from the settlement, because he would have certainly refused this unethical inducement, instead taking his fee out of the settlement.
The larger overall takeaway from United’s manhandling of Dr. Dao: Congress should pass comprehensive airline passenger protections promptly. Airline passengers of the USA, demand these enforceable rights.