Pregnant Air Canada passenger wants settlement reopened

Linda Jarigina-Sahoo of Banff, Alta., wants to reopen a settlement she accepted from Air Canada for the injuries she suffered when she was 19 weeks pregnant during a flight from Toronto to Zurich in 2011.

The 27-year-old hit the ceiling of the plane and was tossed into the row behind.

“It was something so scary that I had never experienced in my life … I was just praying to God, please my baby should be OK,” said Jarigina-Sahoo.

Originally the airline blamed the incident on Flight 878 on turbulence.

Air Canada did not correct the record with the public until 15 months later when the Transportation Safety Board released a report in April saying the co-pilot abruptly caused the aircraft to plunge by mistake when he awoke from a nap.

Jarigina-Sahoo spent two days in hospital in Switzerland. She said she expected that Air Canada would follow up directly with her.

“Initially they did nothing. I waited for maybe four, five days to see if there would be any letter or phone calls or anything, but there wasn’t.”

Her child, Sandis, is almost a year old and seems to be in good health, but Jarigina-Sahoo, a makeup artist, continues to need physiotherapy for back pain from the injuries she sustained on the flight. She still has recurring nightmares and has become terrified of flying.

When she contacted Air Canada, the airline offered a ticket refund. After almost a year of negotiations, the company agreed to cover some physiotherapy bills and days of missed work for a total of $3,500 and 70,000 Aeroplan points. This amount, Jarigina-Sahoo said, won’t cover her continuing medical expenses.

Air Canada said it was “fair and equitable” and required her to sign a document releasing the airline from any future lawsuit.

But after learning that the incident was caused by pilot error and not turbulence, Jarigina-Sahoo said she was shocked.

“It made me angry because I felt like it has all been covered up and nobody spoke the truth, nobody really cared about those passengers who flew.”

A civil litigation expert, Brian Gover of Toronto, said this kind of settlement could be nullified because Air Canada hadn’t revealed the real cause of the incident.

“I regard Air Canada's approach to this as being unfortunate and unwise. It’s unfortunate in that it has misled some of their travelling passengers. It's unwise because it has made it possible to set aside these settlement agreements; it's worked directly against Air Canada's interests.”

In a written statement, Air Canada said it regrets some passengers were injured.

“Upon landing in Zurich, passengers were met by Air Canada representatives and medical staff to assess their well-being, with those reporting injuries receiving treatment and advised of the followup process. As previously stated, we sincerely regret this incident and that some customers were injured, but because we deal with our customers directly we cannot comment further.”

The airline, said Jarigina-Sahoo, should apologize to each passenger. “I’m not just a number; I’m not just a ticket … [they] should be proactive and do something about it."

CBC News has learned that another passenger on Flight 878, Ashlyn O’Mara, has retained lawyers to investigate the possibility of litigation. In a statement to the CBC, the law firm says it anticipates “speaking with many other passengers in the near future to determine the best course of action.”

If you have information on this or other stories please contactinvestigations@cbc.ca

With files from the CBC’s Frederic Zalac