Omri Ben-Shahar and Lior Jacob Strahilevitz on United's Contract with Passengers

David Dao Versus United: What Does The Airline Contract Say?
Omri Ben-Shahar and Lior Jacob Strahilevitz
Forbes
April 14, 2017

America is closely watching the lawsuit that attorneys for the “re-accommodated” United passenger, Dr. David Dao, said they will file. Can Dao win the lawsuit?

United’s liability would depend on what its contract with the passenger says. This is a document that no person in his or her right mind has ever read, if only because it is 37,000 words long – quite a bit longer but no less dispiriting than Hamlet. Yet it is a legally enforceable statement of United’s obligations, since passengers accept it when they purchase the travel.

We read this contract, and discovered a surprise. Surely, you’d think, United’s lawyers worked hard to draft a contract that would allow United to demand passengers on oversold flights to surrender their seats, as the airline did prior to the infamous flight. The lawyers certainly tried. But, astonishingly, it’s not clear that they succeeded.