How much money will United Airlines likely pay the passenger that they forcibly dragged off their airplane?
Now that that is out of the way, I find it hard to believe that the passenger has any real legal recourse. For one, the passenger wasn’t dragged off by United Airlines agents, but by actual police. It is against federal law not to comply with crew instructions. The man refused to comply with their instruction and hence broke the law. The officers were called because he broke the law and when he didn’t comply with their instruction, they dragged him off the airplane. United is (or should) not liable for the actions of agents of the state.
Secondly, if he has any legal recourse, it will be in the form of compensatory damages. You cannot sue for obscene amounts of money, you can only sue for accountable damages. He can sue for the cost of the ticket, if he needed medical care, if he needed to arrange alternative travel, any work he missed, and anything else similar to the above. It is true that there could be punitive damages, but that is rarely awarded by the court.
Thirdly, the man probably breached contract. When you buy a ticket, you are agreeing to a contract that says they may revoke your ticket at anytime, that you are not entitled to a seat, and many more conditions. In fact one condition is that they may refuse to carry you if you breach the contract, government request, or even for unforeseen circumstances. That same contract states that United is not liable for removal from aircraft. This is called Contract of Carriage. You agree to this when you buy a ticket. ALWAYS READ WHAT YOU ARE AGREEING TO!
They are well protected legally and I can totally see that this man will not see a cent.
I also want to say that I do not agree with how United handled this event. They shouldn’t have let the man on the plane in the first place, to be honest. And this man was totally wrong for not complying and getting off the plane. There could have been another plane or he could have driven the 5 hours to St. Louis, paid for by UA.
Also, someone invariably will argue that the airline shouldn’t have kicked this man off the plane to accommodate their employees, but you don’t know the circumstances. There could have been a plane that needed a crew stranded in St. Louis. That flight would have been canceled if they couldn’t get a crew there. There could have been an emergency within UA that required highly trained specialists that UA had to get there as quickly as possible. These employees were certainly not traveling for personal reasons.
Under a , commercial airlines are governed by a document known as a “Contract of Carriage” [COC], a legally binding contract which, among other things, protects the legal rights of passengers, and imposes legal duties upon carriers. United’s COC contains two distinct sections: Rule 21 entitled “Refusal of Transport,” and Rule 25 entitled “Denied Boarding Compensation.”
A “boarding priority” does not include or imply an involuntary removal or refusal of transport. Under most contract law, any ambiguous term in a contract must be construed against – and in the way least favorable to – the party which drafted it. Ie; The “tie” goes to the runner, in baseball parlance
So, even if United argued that there was some ambiguity in “denied boarding” based upon “boarding priority” – and that it could possibly mean removal based upon a removal priority – a court would be forced to rule against this interpretation because UAL drafted the contract.
Rule 21, which unlike the denied boarding rule does provide for removal “from the aircraft at any point,” lists some two dozen justifications including: unruly behavior, intoxication, inability to fit into one seat, medical problems or concerns, etc. But nowhere in the list of some two dozen reasons is there anything about over booking, the need to free up seats, the need for seats to accommodate crew members to be used on a different flight etc.
UAL says not only that the denied boarding justification applies to ordering an already boarded passenger to give up its seat, but that the carrier did all that it could under the rule to deal with its need to accommodate additional crew members as passengers.