DOWNTOWN — The lawyer for the doctor who was dragged off a United Airlines flight at O'Hare over the weekend said Thursday his client suffered a broken nose, injuries to the sinuses, a concussion and two lost front teeth during his removal.
"We want fairness in how people treat us; we want respect and we want dignity. That’s it. Not a big deal. This seems so simple," said attorney Thomas A. Demetrio. "Will there be a lawsuit? Probably."
His client, Dr. David Dao, was removed with such force he will need reconstructive surgery, Demetrio said at a nearly hour-long press conference at the Union League Club, 65 W. Jackson Blvd.
The conference was jammed with reporters following a global story that has been fueled by dramatic cell-phone video taken by fellow passengers during Dao's removal.
Dao was forcibly removed from the United jet to Louisville by authorities to make room for airline employees who needed to get to Kentucky to work other flights. Demetrio, a partner in the powerful Chicago law firm Corboy & Demetrio, called the city aviation department officers who removed the 69-year-old Dao "storm troopers."
Dao was not at the press conference but has been released from the hospital, Demetrio said. The victim's daughter, Crystal Pepper, said that the family is "shocked and sickened," adding, "it shouldn't have happened."
"My dad is a wonderful father. He has raised with my mother five great children who have gone on to do great things," Pepper said. "We are deeply offended by it. Our normalcy is not where it was on Sunday morning."
Demetrio said his office is still putting together details before filing a lawsuit. But he said there was "a culture of disrespect" with the airline and a practice of "bullying customers." He added that his office has been flooded with other tales of woe from passengers.
"This was not a troubled passenger, not a nut job. This was not a threat to anyone. He's a 69-year-old man. Is this how we want to treat the aged?" the attorney said.
Demetrio said, due to the concussion, his client has no recollection of the violent ordeal. But when asked why, in one video, Dao was recorded saying "just kill me," Demetrio said his client told him that getting dragged off the United flight was worse than any other event in his life, including when he fled war-torn Vietnam in the 1970s.
The press conference came after Dao filed an emergency bill of discovery in the Circuit Court of Cook County's Chancery Division Wednesday, asking for surveillance video, cockpit voice recordings, a list of passengers and airline employees on the flight and personnel files of the Aviation Department officer who dragged Dao from the plane.
In all, three officers who removed Dao from the flight have been suspended by city officials as they review the incident, city Aviation Department spokeswoman Karen Pride said.
None of the officers, who are represented by Service Employees International Union 73, have been identified by city officials.
Demetrio's Corboy & Demetrio law firm is routinely in the mix on high-profile personal injury and aviation cases. Dao also is represented by Stephen L. Golan of Golan Christie Taglia. Demetrio is a former president of the Chicago Bar Association and the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association.
He's won multimillion dollar settlements in wrongful death cases. According to his bio, Demetrio "has negotiated well over $1 billion in settlements and acquired the largest personal injury verdict ever upheld by the Illinois Supreme Court. He has never lost an appeal."
United Airlines' CEO Oscar Munoz has offered his "deepest apologies" to Dao.
"We accept," Demetrio told reporters, but "we're not going to let them off the hook here." He also suggested that the city is legally liable, too.
Munoz came under fire for his initial responses to the Sunday evening incident, which was captured in several videos that went viral on social media.
Munoz had described the flight's booted passengers as being "re-accommodate[d]," and in a letter to employees, called Dao "disruptive and belligerent" and said employees had "followed established procedures."
But in a public apology shared by United on Tuesday, Munoz changed his tone, describing the incident as "truly horrific" and saying United took responsibility.
"The truly horrific event that occurred on this flight has elicited many responses from all of us: outrage, anger, disappointment. I share all of those sentiments, and one above all: my deepest apologies for what happened," Munoz wrote in the statement. "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."
Dao "has no interest in even seeing an airplane," Demetrio said, explaining that his client will likely be driven back to Kentucky. Dao has little recollection of the details of the Sunday incident, he added.
Demetrio maintained the issue goes beyond just Dao's case but that the airline industry needs to come up with a better way to serve passengers.
Speaking of Dao, Demetrio said he hopes his client "becomes the poster child for all of us" representing poor service by airlines.
"Somebody's got to," the attorney said.