#UnitedAirlinesAssault – The modern PI claim

If you are on social media (or watch any news programme), you won’t have been able to escape the #UnitedAirlinesAssault story that has dominated the headlines in the lead up to Easter. The tale of a doctor being forcibly removed from an overbooked United Airlines flight with such force that he is said to have suffered a broken nose and teeth has gripped individuals and businesses alike, with competitors coming up with witty tag lines to seize upon the media storm.

But on Thursday it was announced that the passenger in question, Dr David Dao, is likely to bring a law suit against the airline which will no doubt include compensation for his injuries. With so much of what we know about the accident coming from social media, that got us thinking how much of an impact this can have on how serious injury claims are evidenced and presented and what benefits and pitfalls this presents to claimant’s and defendant’s alike.

  1. Live Updates – many will remember the horrific incident last year at Alton Towers when a ride car crashed into another, trapping the occupants and leading to life changing amputations. The world learned of that in real time courtesy of Facebook and twitter posts from onlookers; perhaps the “world” was informed before even the emergency services. The United Airlines incident is no different, with videos taken by fellow passengers being uploaded moments after the event. Whilst most serious and high profile RTA’s or other accidents feature in the press at some point, rarely does such raw and contemporaneous information get published. But, as more and more of us carry around a smartphone linked to social media, there may well come a time when every single accident is captured somewhere by somebody.
  2. Evidence – a benefit (or negative depending on which party you are) of society living life through a smartphone or camera lens is that evidence can be captured in bucket loads. The footage of security staff brutally extracting Dr Dao from the plane will no doubt be one of the first pieces of evidence that his legal team will throw at the lawyers and insurers behind the airline and the security officers. Regardless of whether or not it was justified to forcibly remove Dr Dao, it would be difficult to envisage any Judge condoning some of the action captured on camera and the degree of force used. Many a case where liability is in dispute boils down to which witness the Judge chooses to believe, and when all you have are written witness statements drafted as part of litigation that can be a difficult job. If a Judge is presented with a video or photograph un-doctored and taken by a third party, that is difficult to ignore and something that could save thousands of pounds of legal costs if such evidence is available in every serious injury case.
  3. Would you mind giving a statement? – Many witnesses are lost in serious injury claims, either because they fail to stop or their recollection is not clear enough by the time it comes to lawyers being instructed to bring a claim. But anyone who posts about an accident can be traced by their social media profile. Dr Dao’s lawyers will have access to anyone on that plane who made a post or comment, and if they feel so strongly to post the material in the first place there is a good chance they will give the Claimant a supportive statement. If it was not for social media, United Airlines would have done it’s best to keep the flight manifest to itself, and try and speak to those witnesses long before Dr Dao’s lawyers could even identify who they might have been; making it more difficult to obtain the evidence.
  4. You need to take the rough with the smooth – For all of the benefits that social media may present to a Claimant, you must also consider the negatives. Whilst most of the social media community were speaking out in support of Dr Dao, others used it as an opportunity to make negative remarks about his work and character, which will undoubtedly have a negative impact on him personally, but could also influence a court’s view on whether or not he may have contributed to the incident by his own responses to the request to leave the aircraft. The recovery from a serious injury is difficult enough, and it is difficult to see any benefit in a claimant having to deal with both their personal affairs and negative personal remarks being widely debated in such a public forum.

If you wish to discuss a serious injury claim with our specialist lawyers then please get in touch on 0800 316 8892 or leave a message in our website for a call back.

However, all in all, it is likely that social media is going to play an increasing role in injury claims in the future and lawyers and claimants alike will need to be aware of when it could be relevant to a case, what data may be out there and how to capitalise on that in order to maximise the recovery for the client.