December 12, 2016 3:11 pm
Updated: December 12, 2016 8:46 pm

AC 624 crash: Transport Canada challenging class action certification

Transportation Safety Board investigators and airport firefighters work at the crash site of Air Canada AC624 at Stanfield International Airport in Halifax on Monday, March 30, 2015. The flight crashed during a snowstorm Sunday, March 29, 2015. Transport Canada lawyers are in a Halifax courtroom Monday, Dec. 12, 2016, challenging certification of a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of the 133 passengers.

CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan-Pool
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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.

READ MORE: LIVE BLOG: Air Canada Flight 624 crash lands at Halifax airport

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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

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.

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.

READ MORE: One year later: AC624 passengers still recovering from Halifax crash landing

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 alleged.

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.”

READ MORE: Lawyers make pitch for Air Canada Flight 624 passengers to join lawsuit

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, Nav Canada 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.

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

READ MORE: Nova Scotia law firm files $12M lawsuit against Air Canada over crashed plane

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

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.

READ MORE: ‘It’s hard to forget it’: AC624 passengers say coping isn’t easy

Among other things, the plaintiffs alleged 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.

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 alleged 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.”

© 2016 The Canadian Press

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