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Qantas could face second class action over COVID credits

written by Naomi Neilson | October 12, 2023
Jake Nelson shot this Qantas 787, VH-ZNK, in Melbourne.

Commercial law firm Piper Alderman told a court it is potentially weeks out from filing a competing class action against Qantas for failing to give customers full cash refunds for cancelled flights during the pandemic.

Appearing in the Federal Court on Thursday morning (12 October), Thomas Bagley, counsel for Piper Alderman, said the firm had spent six months investigating the major airline and could be prepared to file its own proceedings within the next fortnight.

Piper Alderman’s potential class action will clash with proceedings lodged two months ago by Echo Law.

Both firms alleged Qantas has “enjoyed significant financial benefits at its customers’ expense” for issuing travel credits or vouchers instead of full cash refunds for their cancelled COVID-19 flights.

The vouchers were subject to “significant restrictions” and could expire, which Echo Law submitted meant they were of “much lower value to customers than the refunds to which they were entitled”.

Echo Law counsel Dr Oren Bigos objected to Piper Alderman’s class action, telling the court because they did not have a lead applicant or had filed anything, that they had “simply turned up and said they want in”.

Dr Bigos said that allowing Piper Alderman to interrupt the proceedings would delay the progress of setting down a timetable.

“If the proceedings are put on hold … it will set a precedent that a person could turn up, without filing any proceeding of their own. He has turned up and hasn’t got his own proceeding,” Dr Bigos said.

Having heard from Qantas that they are prepared to issue refunds to customers – and have started this process with Echo Law’s own lead applicant – Justice Murphy said without this competing class action, he would have sent them to a registrar instead to find an agreement.

Under questioning from Justice Murphy, Mr Bagley admitted there is no client and no funding agreement but said the firm secured interest from Omni Bridgeway to fund their proceedings.

“There are substantially advanced pleadings and have been substantial discussions with (potential) applicants,” Mr Bagley added.

“All I can say is I anticipate within the next two to three weeks, the pleading will be finalised and the proceedings will commence.”

Justice Murphy agreed the proposed new proceeding is “mucking everybody up” in terms of timetabling, but said the “first to file is a terrible rule and will promote bad behaviour” among law firms.

“I do need to countenance that some people will take a bit longer and I hope in doing so will do a better job of their due diligence,” he said.

However, Justice Murphy cautioned the two firms from acting outside of the group members’ interests by only pursuing a multiplicity fight, rather than considering merging the two.

Justice Murphy said a decision to not consolidate is rarely in the group members’ interest and that “it’s in the funder’s interest or the lawyer’s”.

He flagged making an order that any competing class action should be filed in the court within the next two weeks.

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Comment (1)

  • When one looks at the total picture concerning Covid Canx refunds/fcc’s Qantas cannot be singled out! The current potential class action attempts by the two law companies upon Qantas quite clearly appear to be a “Pile on” against our national carrier during it’s period of continuous poundings from the unions and media. During the Covid restrictions every shipping company, airline and hotel chain in the world imposed some form of hindrance to obtaining a refund; – from personal experience I can prove it. In addition the new vogue appears to be, “Non refundable deposits” which clearly is a fee for no service whatsoever and Insurance companies excluded claims if Covid was involved. With respect, these two possible class actions are a dead set attempt to gain cash for their own enterprises, the customer/clients will come second best. In a previous post I mentioned a then pending class action result against A.M.P. – that has now been settled out of court for a total value of AU$110M including costs which, the primary litigant advises us that their charges/costs are about AU$26M ???? Since these Covid related problems are still with us I think it is time for the Government or our highest court to step in and rule that the effected customer can have either a refund or a future credit valid for 2 more years from now. Failure to do this will only lead to a never ending lawyers picnic.

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