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Passengers on 2018 flight to Toronto that crashed in Guyana reach class-action settlement

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Passengers onboard a flight to Toronto that crashed in Guyana in 2018 have agreed to a $5 million settlement after filing a class-action lawsuit against the airline and airplane manufacturer.

On Wednesday, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice approved a settlement of $5.55 million to be awarded to 84 class-action members, made up of passengers and their families. Individual class-action members can expect to receive $8,000 to $225,000 each, depending on the severity of harm they suffered.

Fly Jamaica Flight OJ256 crashed on Nov. 9, 2018 with 120 passengers and eight crew members onboard.

Heading for Toronto from Timehri, Guyana, it departed just after 1 a.m. Those onboard claim it left about 40 minutes late after the crew identified an issue with the aircraft’s front door.

Approximately 20 minutes into the flight, court documents say the pilot informed passengers that the aircraft was returning to Guyana due to a “hydraulic problem.” According to one passenger affidavit, “nothing further” was communicated regarding the issue and they were not informed of any sort of emergency.

As it attempted to land at the Timehri airport, “the aircraft skidded violently past the end of the runway, through a perimeter fence, and over a sand berm, ripping off its right-hand main landing gear and its right-hand engine,” the affidavit reads.

“The passenger cabin went dark and ceiling panels came loose falling on several passengers along with other debris, injuring them,” the document reads.

The passengers, many of whom were crying and screaming, reported a “chaotic” evacuation from the plane, which at that point had begun to fill with dark smoke, according to the lawsuit.

Many of the 120 people on board suffered injuries and one passenger, an 86-year-old woman, died in the week following the crash.

After disembarking, the passenger claimed it took nearly three hours for medical aid to arrive, during which they were forced to wait on the tarmac in the dark. It wasn’t until eight hours after the crash that they were able to speak to an airline representative and given access to the airport restaurant, the lawsuit claims.

Fly Jamaica Airways ceased operations in 2021 after declaring bankruptcy. CTV News Toronto reached out to legal representation for the former airline, along with Boeing, for further comment but did not receive a response from either by publication.

In an affadavit sworn to the court, one passenger said the crash has significantly impacted his quality of life.

“I continue to suffer from neck pain, shoulder pain, right foot pain, lower back pain, PTSD, anxiety, and depression,” he wrote. “My stress and anxiety have impacted my relationship with [my family], as well as my ability to fly or travel.”

Within a few weeks of the crash, two class-action lawsuits were filed against Fly Jamaica, Boeing, and an unidentified aircraft mechanic on behalf of four passengers from the Toronto area. The lawsuits eventually proceeded as a single action. The lawsuit alleged the parties were liable for negligence, that the aircraft was in disrepair when it took off, and that the crew had failed to anticipate and properly declare an emergency. 

On Thursday, Valérie Lord, a lawyer representing some of the passengers, said the case "exemplifies why class actions remain an important mechanism for access to justice for Canadians."

"We worked very hard to ensure that the agreement would leave no class member uncompensated or undercompensated. Ultimately, the funds provide recovery to real people with legitimate injuries," she said.

Out of the 120 passengers onboard, 31 settled directly with Fly Jamaica Airways, and 5 opted out of this action. The remaining 84 were designated as class-action members.

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