WATCH: People onboard the Air Canada flight that crash landed in Halifax are getting cheques delivered from the airline. But, some are concerned about the legal implications of accepting Air Canada’s cash. Ross Lord explains.
HALIFAX – Air Canada is providing passengers from the flight that crash-landed in Halifax with cheques for $5,000 but a lawyer representing some passengers said the cheques will not negate any future claims by those who walked away from the crash.
The Airbus A320 touched down 335 metres short of the runway at the Halifax airport early Sunday morning. All 133 passengers and five crew on board the Airbus A320 survived the crash, although 25 people were sent to hospital.
Air Canada spokesperson Peter Fitzpatrick said the funds will be given to each passenger to cover “immediate and interim expenses”.
“Our focus is on providing them with assistance and we will continue to deal directly with these customers on any matters relating to additional claims,” Fitzpatrick said in a statement to Global News.
The statement also says there is no requirement for customers to sign any commitment.
Halifax lawyer Ray Wagner, who is representing passengers seeking compensation from the airline, said several passengers have shown him the $5,000 cheque and approximately 30 have contacted his law firm about it.
Wagner, who is under the assumption the letter is the same for every passenger, said the cheque appears to be a gratuitous payment to pacify the passengers of the airline.
“It may be benevolent. It may be tactical. I’m not sure,” he said. “What it does is basically says ‘We’re going to give you $5,000. It’s not an admission of guilt’.”
Wagner describes the cheque as a “set-off”, which means that if passengers are successful in a class action lawsuit, $5,000 will be deducted from each passenger’s settlement.
“If they’re not found liable in any respect, then you can keep the money,” he explained.
Wagner said the airline may be trying to help passengers with incurred expenses as a result of the crash, for example, changing travel plans or not being able to work or other missed opportunities.
“It abates that a bit. It gives a little bit of a payment to ameliorate the costs and soften those costs,” he said.
However, he also said it could reveal a darker side to discourage people from taking further action against the airline.
“You get the $5000 and you feel Air Canada is nice but it’s a not a true representation of overall costs,” he said.
Wagner said he suspects passengers are facing more physical and psychological injury than has been portrayed by Air Canada.
He suggests that passengers who receive the cheque speak with a lawyer or a law firm.
But he does not believe there is any harm in cashing the cheque.
“What’s more concerning for us is that there’s nothing wrong with providing psychological services to counsel people but the problem is when the defendant, Air Canada, is providing those services, they’re in control of the situation,” he said.
Wagner said that information would likely not be shared with a legal team pursuing action against the airline.
“What I suggest to people who have a problem is to see a family doctor, who will work in the best interest of the patient, as opposed to going through grief counseling through something controlled by the defendant.”
The lawyer adds that unless the need is immediate, he recommends waiting to speak with a non-airline affiliated psychologist or counselor.
“What I’ve been telling our clients is if you cash the cheque, it’s fine. It’s not a release of the claim,” he said.
Wagner also said passengers have told him they are receiving flowers and new luggage from Air Canada, even though their luggage was not damaged in the crash.