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When Airlines Use Excessive Force on Customers


The incident involving United Airlines and the passenger they forcibly removed in order to board staffers at the last minute has received widespread attention, particularly because of the severe personal injuries suffered by this man, David Dao. Dao was forcibly removed and hospitalized for his injuries after being forcibly dragged down the plane’s aisle after already being boarded and refusing to give up his seat.

United has already indicated that they will no longer call on law enforcement to remove passengers, as well as remove passengers who have booked, paid, and already been seated. However, this still begs the question of whether what was done to Dao was negligent and involved excessive use of force, even if law enforcement officers—entitled to use some force in the course of their job—were involved.

The Law

The “contract of carriage” has typically provided protection from liability for airlines needing to bump passengers off a flight. In addition, flight crew members have had significant leeway in calling in the use of law enforcement if/when a passenger isn’t strictly following their instructions without question or resistance. However, the use of excessive force against a customer—such as, arguably, dragging him down the aisle such that he receives numerous, obvious injuries—arguably falls under negligence and/or intentional infliction of harm.

Although police are allowed to use a certain amount of force in the ordinary dealings of working in law enforcement, they can only use the amount of force necessary to mitigate the incident, make an arrest, and/or protect themselves and others from harm.

Others Impacted

In addition to Dao filing a lawsuit against the airline, this particular incident also brings to light others involved who could also potentially file personal injury claims, such as the other passengers on the plane who witnessed what happened (and were emotionally and/or physically harmed in doing so), and the patients relying upon Dao, who is a doctor, and who he claimed he needed to get to via that particular flight schedule.

The incident has caused such a backlash that some legislators have announced plans to introduce legislation which would ban airlines from involuntarily bumping passengers from overbooked flights and mandate that they seek volunteers only to switch flights only before boarding. United itself agrees that if they ask customers to reschedule after already being boarded, they need to adjust their incentive program to raise their offer until a customer chooses to give up their seat.

Boca Raton Personal Injury Attorneys

The term “personal injury” generally refers to any injury which is caused by the negligent, reckless or even intentional misconduct of another. Dealing with the aftermath of injuries caused by these incidents can be painful, expensive, and demoralizing. Justice requires that the injured party be compensated by the person responsible for causing the injury, but navigating the system and achieving fair compensation can be extremely difficult without the help of an experienced attorney.

At Lavalle, Brown & Ronan, we have years of experience serving the communities of Boca Raton, Florida, and surrounding areas in providing our expertise in the field of personal injury litigation. Contact us today to find out how we can help ensure that you and your family achieve justice for your injury.


For more information and in depth analysis, please contact Attorney Ken Ronan at and Case Manager Richard Bagdasarian at

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