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Apr 25

When Video Evidence Goes Viral

Written on behalf of Brian S. Kabateck
April 25, 2017

The cell phone video seen around the world showing a bleeding United Airlines passenger dragged off a plane triggered a visceral reaction. Millions of viewers on social media and TV watched in horror as law enforcement officers violently dragged 69-year-old Dr. David Dao off the Louisville-bound plane by law enforcement officers. The viral video sparked swift condemnation of United Airlines, which struggled to come up with an adequate response and an eventual apology for the horrible mistreatment of a consumer.

Without video, United certainly wouldn’t have suffered the same level of intense, negative publicity. The company also may have had a stronger defense to justify the passenger’s removal. After all, in the post 9/11 era, airlines have much more leeway to boot off anyone they suspect may cause trouble.

In the case of an overbooked flight, airlines are free to throw off passengers in a process called “involuntary denied boarding” as long as the carrier first seeks volunteers who are willing to give up their seats for compensation. After the bumped passengers’ rights are put in writing, they are entitled to 200 percent of the one-way ticket price, capped at $650.

In this case, United claims a flight crew arrived at the last minute at the Chicago O’Hare International airport and announced it needed to get to the destination city, Louisville, to staff another flight. After failing to find volunteers despite offering compensation, the airline randomly picked four people including Dr. Dao. After Dao refused to give up his paid seat, he was dragged off the plane with blood streaming down his face.

While defenders of United might argue Dr. Dao’s histrionics caused his injuries, the law is clear: if an airline is going to eject a passenger, it cannot be done with unreasonable force or violence. In this case, it’s very difficult to get past the visual evidence of excessive force.

Dao wasted no time finding an experienced, high-profile lawyer who filed an emergency request with an Illinois court, asking that United be required to preserve videos and “other evidence relating to the accident.” According to Dao’s attorneys, he suffered a concussion, two lost teeth and a broken nose when he fell during the “re-accommodation” process. Dao’s attorneys also want to preserve surveillance footage, cockpit video recordings, passenger and crew lists and additional evidence related to United Flight 3411.

If a lawsuit is filed alleging excessive force, a lot will depend on whether the plain-clothed police officers were police officers acting in their independent capacity or as agents of the airline. The police department could also find itself a defendant in this case.

Today the majority of Americans— 95 percent—own a smartphone with a camera, making it highly likely that more incidents that expose consumer mistreatment will continue to surface. This is a wakeup call for big business and corporate leaders who need to learn how to show more empathy to avoid the type of PR disaster that United experienced.

Consumer protection laws are designed to ensure the rights of vulnerable consumers in society. The laws are a form of government directive intended to protect the rights of consumers.

If you believe you or others like you have been somehow injured, cheated, or otherwise harmed by unfair business practices, give us a call and let us help you protect your rights. At Kabateck Brown Kellner, LLP, we can help you explore all of your options and ultimately achieve for you the maximum compensation for your harm.

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