The Antigua and Barbuda High Court today blocked a class action suit filed by a senior Barbadian pilot against his employer LIAT (1974) in a ruling that some lawyers warn could have serious implications for anyone flying on the airline.
Captain Neil Cave, who had filed the claim in the Antigua and Barbuda High Court on behalf of nine other pilots back in 2015, said the court ruled that the trial which was set to start today cannot now go forward.
In explaining the events that led up to this judgment handed down via Zoom, Captain Cave said the court was expected to determine the legality of LIAT’s management decision to lodge about EC$5 million in CLICO International Life Insurance as pension for the pilots.
“Our contention certainly is that pension funds were lodged illegally into a CLICO scheme by LIAT management. No authorization was given to deduct our salaries and place these monies, approximately EC$5 million into CLICO,” the Barbadian pilot stated.
“We contend that the placement of these funds into CLICO under the guise of a pension where a trust deed or plan rules have never existed, constitute a criminal offence under Section C 34 of the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Code,” the commercial flyer with LIAT said in reference to his witness statement.
“Today, on the day of our trial which was conducted via Zoom by a judge in the Antigua and Barbuda High Court, the defendant LIAT (1974) Limited argued that the new Antigua and Barbuda Companies Amendment Act 2020, prevents absolutely any form of legal action however arising being taken against LIAT,” the Barbadian pilot said.
Captain Cave, who also studied law, explained that the ruling means no such action can be taken against the regional airline, irrespective of whether one is an existing creditor.
“The court ruled that our case, which was set down for trial today to be determined, cannot go forward. So in essence, no legal process of any sort can be brought against LIAT by any entity, which I find to be very alarming,” he contended.
The senior pilot noted that aviation carries with it certain inherent risks and unforeseen circumstances that arise from time to time.
“What this morning’s ruling means then, I am told, is that no form of claim, personal injury for example, can be filed against LIAT at this time as a result of this very broad and sweeping legislation. Our feeling is that our fundamental rights to due process have been blocked by this legislation,” Captain Cave lamented.
He further expressed fears about the implications considering that LIAT operates through multiple territories including Barbados.
“I am extremely concerned that for someone who has respect for the rule of law, that citizens of these countries have no legal recourse as a result of the new Antigua legislation.”
Cave then raised a question within the context of this new law.
“What happens, God forbid, should a person or persons suffer an injury as a result of an accident while this stay exists. As a result of this new law, they can’t even file a claim. The bottom-line is that my lawyer has advised that the interpretation raises serious legal questions, including potential constitutional issues,” he stated.
Captain Cave said that on the basis of this, some form of legal challenge is likely to be filed, whether by appeal or constitutional motion with respect to this Antigua and Barbuda Companies Amendment Act and today’s ruling.