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N.S. jet crash lawsuit: Transport Canada included in class-action certification

Last Updated Dec 13, 2016 at 3:00 pm PDT

Air Canada flight 624 rests off the runway after landing at Stanfield International Airport in Halifax on Sunday, March. 29, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

HALIFAX – Transport Canada has failed in its bid to be excluded from a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of passengers aboard an Air Canada jet that crashed at the Halifax airport during a snowstorm last year.

Federal lawyers had argued the department could not be sued because it did not owe a duty of care to the passengers aboard Flight 624.

However, Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice Denise Boudreau decided Tuesday that even though Transport Canada did not owe a duty of care to the flying public, it had to be included in the lawsuit because as landlord for the airport, it could be held responsible for its navigation systems and other equipment.

The Airbus 320 hit the ground about 200 metres short of Runway 05 shortly after midnight on March 29, 2015, as it approached Halifax Stanfield International Airport in gusty winds and heavy snowfall. The twin-engine plane bounced into the air and crashed near the runway threshold before careening along the tarmac for another 570 metres.

An engine and the plane’s landing gear were torn from the airframe amid a shower of sparks and leaking fuel, but there was no fire and the fuselage remained largely intact.

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.

The other defendants in the case had earlier confirmed they would not oppose the certification of the class action. They include Air Canada, the Halifax International Airport Authority, Nav Canada and Airbus SAS, the French company that built the jet.

Lawyer Ray Wagner said all of the passengers aboard Flight 624 will be sent letters asking if they want to opt out as a plaintiff, which would allow them to pursue their own legal action. The deadline for opting out is March 24.

In a statement of claim, three passengers have come forward to represent the class of plaintiffs.

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

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

Among other things, the plaintiffs allege 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.

Their statement of claim says 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.

As for Transport Canada, the lawsuit alleges the department was negligent by inadequately monitoring the airport’s compliance with safety requirements, and choosing not to ensure that the airport had an adequate emergency response plan.