After a plaintiff sought to sue an airline for a flight cancellation during the COVID-19 pandemic, an Alberta court stayed his action until national class action suits on the same issues were decided.

Airline Cancels Plaintiff’s Flight During COVID-19 Pandemic

An Alberta plaintiff wanted to sue Air Canada for breach of contract related to a purchase of airline tickets for his family on Air Canada’s website for $12,929. The tickets were purchased on March 20, 2020 for a travel date of March 30, 2020. The March 30, 2020 flight was cancelled by Air Canada on March 25, 2020, allegedly due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Following the cancellation, the plaintiff was forced to make alternate arrangements with another air carrier for his family to travel back to Canada.

The plaintiff subsequently demanded return of the purchase price, but Air Canada failed or refused to provide a refund in the original form of payment. Instead, Air Canada offered the plaintiff a travel voucher for the value of his airline tickets.

In response to the plaintiff’s court application, Air Canada asked the court to stay the plaintiff’s civil action on the basis that there were class action authorization applications underway in other jurisdictions on the same issue. In fact, Air Canada submitted that there were four proposed class actions seeking refunds in the original form of payment on behalf of passengers whose flights were cancelled due to COVID-19. The class actions also sought special, general, nominal and punitive damages for breach of the contract of carriage. Each of the proposed class actions raised the question of whether passengers whose flights were affected by COVID-19 were entitled to rescind their contracts, and obtain a refund and/or compensation for consequential economic loss.

Air Canada thus proposed that the plaintiff’s individual claim be stayed as it would be best heard as part of a class action.

Court Stays Plaintiff’s Claim in Anticipation of Class Actions 

The court began by explaining that under s. 3.72(1)(c) of the Alberta Rules of Court a court may order an action stayed if “for any reason the Court considers appropriate”, including that two or more actions have a “common question of law or fact” or “arise out of the same transaction or occurrence or series of transactions or occurrences”. Additionally, a court will consider the following factors in deciding whether to exercise their discretion to issue a temporary stay pending resolution of another proceeding:

  • Whether there is substantial overlap of issues in the two proceedings;
  • Whether the two cases share the same factual background;
  • Whether issuing a temporary stay will prevent unnecessary and costly duplication of judicial and legal resources; and
  • Whether the temporary stay will result in an injustice to the party resisting the stay.

After reviewing the proposed class actions, the court noted that the plaintiff’s individual action sought the same relief as was being sought in the class actions, namely: a finding that Air Canada had breached the contract of carriage, and that the breach entitled plaintiff to a refund in the original form of payment.

As such, the court ultimately granted Air Canada’s request for a stay in the plaintiff’s case, stating:

“The proposed class actions seek to determine issues related to whether [Air Canada] and other carriers breached their contractual and regulatory obligations as a result of flight cancellations due to COVID-19, and whether passengers are entitled to damages beyond the offered travel vouchers such as refunds in the original form of payments. Essentially, the proposed class actions seek to determine air carrier liability to passengers in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on travel.  In my view, if one or more of the proposed class actions is authorized, these issues are best and most practically adjudicated in class proceedings as opposed to individual proceedings in different courts and in different jurisdictions. This promotes judicial economy by avoiding duplication of judicial and legal resources, and it ensures consistency of the adjudicative process.  Issuing a temporary stay of [the plaintiff]’s individual action, in my view, will prevent unnecessary and costly duplication of judicial and legal resources.  It also ensures that there is no injustice to [Air Canada] in having to defend multiple actions in multiple jurisdictions.”

The court also held that the plaintiff would not suffer an injustice if the stay was granted because if one or more of the proposed class actions was authorized, he could choose to participate in them. Then, if any issues remained after the class action’s disposition, the plaintiff could apply to lift the stay and proceed with his individual case on any outstanding legal issues.

As a result, the court issued a temporary stay of the plaintiff’s action against Air Canada, pending final disposition of the proposed class actions.

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