United Airlines – Divided Views

Last updated on: 24/04/2017

On 9 April 2017, an incident occurred on-board United Airlines caused a spectacle in the international aviation industry. While the plane was still at the gate, it was announced that 4 passengers needed to be removed to accommodate 4 staff members of the United Airlines. Reason: They had to cover an unstaffed flight at another location.

The 4 passengers were offered US$400 worth of United Airlines travel vouchers, a night stay in the airport hotel and a seat on a flight which would leave more than 21 hours later; the offer was then increased to US$800 in vouchers when there were no volunteers.

Again with no volunteers, 4 people were chosen by the computer. Out of which, a couple and a woman agreed to leave. The 4th chosen passenger, unfortunately, 69-year-old David Dao (“Dao”), an Asian-American doctor refused, saying that he had patients to see the next day.

Like a true blue American sitcom, a scuffle ensued and Dao suffered injuries to his head, mouth and possibly a trauma to his state of mind. Dao was taken to the hospital with injuries including a broken nose, loss of 2 front teeth, sinus injuries and a concussion – he also required a reconstructive surgery.

Dao is now considering taking legal action against United Airlines for personal injuries he has suffered.


In an unlikely event of an incident like Dao’s, it is comforting to know that there are various ways you can claim compensation for personal injury. It is important to know what kind of accident you were in – it could be a traffic accident, a workplace accident or an accident due to someone else’s negligence.

Traffic accidents

If you are the driver, your insurer will handle any claims against you. However, if you would like to claim against another party and/or their insurer, you should approach a private law firm to seek independent legal advice and to represent you in filing a claim.

Workplace accidents

If you had suffered injuries at your workplace or during the course of your work, you can claim compensation under the Workmen Injury Compensation Act or Common Law. Under the Workmen Injury Compensation Act, you can represent yourself at the Ministry of Manpower. However, if you choose to claim under common law, you will need to engage a private law firm to file a claim in Court.

Under the Workmen Injury Compensation Act, you can represent yourself at the Ministry of Manpower. However, if you choose to claim under common law, you will need to engage a private law firm to file a claim in Court.

Other accidents (due to someone else’s negligence)

If you are claiming for medical expenses or any other expenses which you have already incurred, you can engage a lawyer to write a letter of demand to whoever you are claiming from. In the best case scenario, settlement can be obtained without too much hassle. But more often than not, the amount of compensation is disputed and lawyers will get involved.

You should seek a lawyer’s advice on the estimated amount of compensation you are likely to get and to send a letter of demand on your behalf.


Broadly speaking, compensation comes in 2 categories – General and Special Damages.

General Damages

This is commonly known as the non-economic losses suffered by you, i.e. Pain and suffering. However, it should be highlighted that such pain and suffering is not limited to physical pain or discomforting resulting from the injury. It can include any emotional distress suffered by you after the accident.

In our local context, there is no particular legal standards on quantifying general damages. We do however, have a reference book published by the State Courts and Singapore Academy of Law that sets out guidelines for lawyers to help quantify the amount of damages.

For instance, for a psychiatric injury, some of the factors a Court considers include:-

  1. Your ability to cope with life and work in general as compared to your pre-trauma state;
  2. The accident’s effect on your relationships with family, friends and those with whom you come into contact with;
  3. Whether you are suicidal as a result of your psychiatric condition;
  4. Whether you have sought medical attention;
  5. Extent to which treatment would be successful;
  6. Extent to which the medication affects your work and social life;
  7. Whether you are faithfully attending counselling sessions and taking your medication;
  8. Whether there is a risk of relapse in the future; and
  9. The chances of full recovery in the future.

Special Damages

These damages are the economic loss suffered by you, including medical expenses, loss of income, repair or replacement of damaged property. Special damages are usually easily quantified. It is important to retain all invoices and/or payment receipts of the expenses you have incurred as a result of the personal injury.


Need a lawyer?

It always come down to the question of whether you need a personal injury lawyer. Of course, if you are able to reach a settlement with the other party, the issue is resolved. Once a settlement is reached, either between yourself and the other party and/or their insurers, you essentially give up the right to pursue the matter in Court.

However, such cases are rarely so straightforward. If parties are not able to come to a settlement, a personal injury lawyer will be useful. Nevertheless, you should engage a lawyer even during the negotiation stage of things.

Advantages of having a personal injury lawyer

As personal injury claims often involve voluminous paperwork, we have the expertise of going through them at a near zero-error rate and with professionalism. That being said, we will be in a better position to assess the damages suffered by you and to advise you on the appropriate settlement sum.

Not only that, we will write letters of demand to the person whom you are claiming against as well as their insurers, first to negotiate a settlement, and failing which to represent you at trial. Going through the court processes could be a mentally exhausting affair, having a personal injury lawyer in these situations would be a plus.

Please contact us to know more about your legal rights if you have suffered personal injuries and wish to make a claim against an individual and/or their insurers.

Written by Tracy Wang, Associate, Golden Law LLC