Transport Canada challenging Halifax plane crash lawsuit

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The certification of a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of passengers aboard an Air Canada jet that crashed at the Halifax airport in 2015 was challenged in court Monday by federal lawyers.

The lawyers argued Transport Canada could not be sued because it did not owe a duty of care to the passengers aboard Flight 624.

They argued the department should be exempt from the lawsuit because it had no direct relationship with the passengers.

What happened

Shortly after midnight on March 29, 2015, the Airbus 320 approached Halifax Stanfield International Airport in gusty winds and heavy snowfall.

The jet hit some power lines, slammed into the ground about 200 metres short of Runway 05 and bounced into the air, where it tore through a navigation antenna.

Air Canada Flight 624

The plane lost its nose and one of its engines in the crash. (RCMP)

When the twin-engine plane hit the ground a second time, about 70 metres before the runway threshold, one of its engines and its landing gear were torn off as it skidded along the runway amid a shower of sparks for another 570 metres, according to the Transportation Safety Board.

More than two dozen people were injured in the crash, and virtually all of the 133 passengers had to spend about 50 minutes on the tarmac, huddled against a blizzard, before they were taken to an unheated hangar, the lawsuit alleges.

Transport Canada has ‘a responsibility’

Lawyer Ray Wagner, who represents the plaintiffs, argued that as a regulator devoted to passenger safety, Transport Canada did owe a duty of care to Flight 624 passengers because the department was responsible for reviewing and enforcing safety regulations through the Aeronautics Act

“[Transport Canada] is saying that because they’re regulators, they don’t have any responsibility over the operational aspect,” Wagner said outside court.

“But when they go out and start doing the work of supervising and ensuring the safety systems are in place, they have a responsibility to make sure they are in place. We’re saying that they did not do that appropriately. Therefore, they are negligent.”

Other defendants

AC624 passenger Lianne Clark is scheduled to fly again on Monday.

Lianne Clark said she had to give up working in Ottawa because she couldn’t handle flying so often. Before the crash she had spent 25 years commuting between Halifax and Ottawa. (CBC)

The other defendants in the case confirmed Monday they will not oppose the certification of the class action.

The other defendants include Air Canada, the Halifax International Airport Authority, NavCanada and Airbus SAS, the French company that builds the Airbus line of jets.

Among those in the courtroom Monday was passenger Randy Hall, who was on his way home from a vacation in Mexico when the jet plunged to the ground and veered off the runway.

At the time, the Halifax-area resident recalled how there was a big flash when the plane severed the power lines, and he described in detail how he saw an engine and the landing gear being ripped from the airframe.

Hall declined a request for an interview outside the courtroom, saying he had told his story too many times already.

Decision expected Tuesday

Nova Scotia Supreme Court Judge Denise Boudreau is expected to issue her decision on the certification Tuesday.

Outside court, Wagner said the certification was granted for a case against all of the defendants, except Transport Canada.

Boudreau must decide whether to include the department as a defendant, exempt them from the case or offer a provisional certification that will allow the lawsuit to go ahead before she renders a final decision.

In a statement of claim, three other passengers — all of them from Nova Scotia — have come forward to represent the class of plaintiffs.

Allegations

Halifax resident Asher Hodara, said he suffered a mild traumatic brain injury and dental damage.

Malanga Georges Libboy of Church Point, N.S., said the crash has left him with profound psychological stress and pain in his knee, neck and mouth.

Kathleen Carroll-Byrne of Halifax says she continues to suffer from anxiety, a loss of concentration and a fear of flying.

None of the allegations in the class action has been proven in court.

Among other things, the plaintiffs allege Air Canada was negligent because the airline did not provide adequate training for its flight crew, particularly when it came to landing in harsh weather.

Passenger safety

The statement of claim also alleges that the Halifax International Airport Authority is liable because it failed to
properly clear Runway 05 and did not replace an older-style navigation system with a more advanced instrument landing (ILS) system.

As for Transport Canada, the lawsuit alleges the department breached its duty of care by inadequately monitoring the airport’s compliance with safety requirements and by choosing not to install an ILS for Runway 05.

“The regulations give a bunch of responsibility to Transport Canada to ensure that certain procedures are followed for the safety of passengers,” Wagner said outside court.

“Passenger safety is at the core of what we are talking about here. We say Transport Canada failed to ensure that passenger safety was at the forefront.”

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Transport Canada challenging Halifax plane crash lawsuit

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