A Toronto law firm has launched a multi-billion-dollar class action lawsuit for the shooting down of an airplane in which a Port Coquitlam family of three and 173 others were killed.
The suit names the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Ukraine International Airlines (UIA) and “John Doe Missile Operator,” and comes two weeks after Iran shot down UIA Flight 752, killing 176 people, including Port Coquitlam's Niloofar Rezzaghi, her husband Ardalan Ebnoddin-Hamidi and their 15-year-old son, Kamyar Ebnoddin-Hamidi — a teacher, an engineer and a Riverside secondary student respectively.
“We’re here to try to seek justice and compensation for the victims,” said Tom Arndt, a class action litigator with the Toronto law firm Himelfarb Prozanski.
Arndt filed a statement of claim proposing the class action suit with a Toronto area court Jan. 20, according to documents obtained by The Tri-City News. Under guidelines governing how class action civil suits advance, a move to certify the suit should be issued within a year.
The proposed class action suit seeks damages of over $2.5 billion.
The New York-based litigation-funding company Galactic Litigation Partners LLC has agreed to finance the class action, said Arndt, but like the suit itself, the funding is still subject to court approval.
While the UIA has been served the statement of claim at its New York offices, the federal government is responsible for serving the claim to the Iranian parties named in the suit. Once those documents are sent, Iran has 60 days to respond, according to the court papers.
Flight 752 was shot down the same night Iran launched ballistic missiles at U.S. bases in Iraq in retaliation for a targeted drone strike that killed one of Iran’s senior military officers, Gen. Qassem Soleimani, as he left the airport in Baghdad.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has been blamed for downing the aircraft with two Tor surface-to-air missiles.
After three days denying it had a hand in downing the plane, the Iranian government admitted to shooting down the Ukrainian jetliner on Jan. 11, saying it had been mistaken for an incoming cruise missile while the country's armed forces braced for possible U.S. retaliation. In his admission, Revolutionary Guard Gen. Amirali Hajizadeh said the airline's pilot and crew had done nothing wrong but an officer made the "bad decision" to open fire on the plane after mistaking it for a cruise missile.
"We were prepared for an all-out conflict," he said, according to the Associated Press.
The downing of the plane triggered several days of protest. On Jan. 12, the country’s security forces cracked down on protesters, reportedly firing tear gas and live ammunition into a crowd of people, according to video shared with the Associated Press.
In blaming and seeking compensation from Ukraine International Airlines, the proposed suit notes that despite the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration banning civilian aircraft from flying over the region, and several airlines cancelling flights to airports in Iran and Iraq, Flight PS752 departed despite the known risks.
Reading from a prepared statement, lawyer Arndt told The Tri-City News, “Iran was totally prepared for U.S. retaliation and full-fledged war” and “airline and aviation authorities should have banned all flights.”
He added: “Iran admitted it shot down the plane. That is a strong first step. The Ukrainian airline has yet to take responsibility. We intend to work through the courts to seek justice and compensation for the families.”
The proposed class action was filed only days after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the federal government would provide $25,000 to family members of the victims of Flight 752. The money, Trudeau said Jan. 17, would be made available to help family members who are Canadian citizens or permanent residents pay for immediate needs like travel and funeral arrangements.
Of the 176 who died in the crash, 138 were on their way to Canada, including 57 Canadian citizens and 29 permanent residents. In terms of Canadian lives lost, the crash represents the country's most devastating aviation disaster since the bombing of Air India Flight 182 in 1985.
While a future settlement can never bring back “so many young doctors, medical students with big dreams and families,” Arndt said he hopes a lawsuit can bring some form of justice to the families involved.
This is not the first high-profile case for the lawyer. He has a long history of litigating class action suits dating back to the tainted- blood settlements of the late 1980s, when unscreened blood transfusions led to the spread of hepatitis C among thousands of Canadians. That case settled for $1.2 billion, one of the biggest in Canadian history.
This time, Arndt said, the downing of the plane has hit him on a personal level: One of his clients — whose name is standing in for the victims and victims’ families — lost his sister, brother-in-law and one-year-old niece on the flight, and he recently attended their funerals.
“Think of the potential on that plane," Arndt said. "It was all wiped out."
• Arndt is asking any family of the victims to reach out to him directly with questions at Info@flightps752.ca.