Earlier today I wrote about a horrific incident that happened in Houston where a United agent shoved a 71-year old man, knocking him to the ground unconscious while other employees just stood around and watched. Here’s my legal analysis: the senior citizen stands to collect even more than Dr. Dao did.
Of course the precise amount Dr. Dao received is kept under lock and key, sealed by a non-disclosure agreement, but it is safe to speculate the amount comfortably exceeds seven digits (I’ve heard rumors of 8-digits…). Let me outline why what happened to Ronald Tigne is even worse.
United Airlines’ Negligence
As a common carrier, United had a heightened duty of care in its treatment of Mr. Tigne. This does not start onboard the aircraft, but includes any airport interaction. Furthermore, this duty to care to act reasonably more is a higher standard than an average person’s duty to act reasonably. But even with the heightened standard of care, the passenger must still prove negligence.
Negligence includes the following elements–
- Duty – did United have a duty of care?
- Breach – did United breach its duty of care?
- Causation – would the injury have occurred had the breach not occurred?
- Damages – can the victim show actual damages?
I cannot think of a single legal theory in which United somehow did not have a duty of care in situation or did not breach its duty of care, causing significant harm. It wasn’t just the attack from the agent — it was the fact that five agents essentially stood around and watched, failing to intervene. The whole string of events constituted a breach of duty.
Even with Dr. Dao, one could make the argument that his “belligerence” and “failure to follow crewmember instructions” forced United to remove him. One could argue that the force used was “proportionate” to Dao’s refusal to comply with reasonable law enforcement demands.
That’s such a stretch that United settled before Dao’s case went to court, but it is plausible.
There is absolutely no legal defense that can be even floated in this case: it is why the United agent was charged with assault.
But Wait, There’s More!
Let’s count up the intentional torts that Tigne can use for as well.
- Intentional infliction of emotional distress
Two defenses: self-defense and reasonableness. The ex-United agent would be laughed out of court if he tried to posit either defense.
And the Kicker…
This story is trending and may go viral. I think it should. The biggest issue will not the injury itself, but by the amount of public outcry. We already say TODAY cover it earlier…where else will is spread? If it the story makes national headlines, United will want to settle it quickly.
Until this sort of culture is weeded out of United Airlines, United will suffer death by a thousand cuts. While the Dao incident heightens public awareness of what happened and thereby makes United more willing to settle, don’t think that Tigne is just trying to pull a fast one. I dare anyone to watch the video and tell me that he deserved to be knocked out, no matter what he said to the gate agent. It’s payday for Tigne.