Without any way, families fight for reimbursements for their school trips in court months after pandemic

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Lawyers representing hundreds of frustrated families across Canada have filed a class action lawsuit against an educational travel agency and two insurance companies, hoping to obtain reimbursement for school trips canceled last spring due to the coronavirus pandemic.“I’m here for the long haul. You know, if the insurance companies are looking for a fight, they’re going to have one, ”said Lucinda Mungy, one of four plaintiffs in a class action suit filed Tuesday by Curtis Dawe Lawyers in St. John’s and Sotos LLP in Toronto.

Her son, Owen, raised funds for a trip to Europe to mark his 18th birthday.

“When you’re in a place like Prague, with a legal drinking age of 18, what teenager doesn’t mean they were legally drinking on a trip to high school? Said Owen Mungy from his home in Fenelon Falls, Ont.

“But there’s also just seeing a part of the world that I’ve never really seen before… I’ve never left the continent. So to be able to see this whole new part of the world, which is just amazing. ”

However, on March 13, the Canadian government issued an official global travel advisory to avoid non-essential overseas travel. Schools and divisions have canceled their trips.

Seven months later, many families have seen no reimbursement despite purchasing insurance. They have received correspondence from insurance companies saying they need more information from the travel agency, Explorica Canada, including reimbursements it has received from airlines or airlines. hotels.

However, Explorica maintains that it has provided all the necessary documentation to insurance companies so that they can process the claims. The company also claims to have honored its share of refunds owed to customers under the terms of its program. He also created a website to answer questions asked by families.

Common objective

Lucinda Mungy said she was one of the lucky ones: Explorica reimbursed about half of their $ 3,500 trip. However, she has purchased travel insurance from the Old Republic Insurance Company of Canada (ORIC) and wants them to reimburse the balance.

The other claimants are Ottawa family Dawn Molot and her daughter Tandia, who have purchased insurance from Arch Insurance Canada. They did not receive any of the $ 4,600 they paid for their trip.

The class action lawsuit names the two insurance companies, as well as WorldStrides Canada Inc., the parent company of Explorica Canada.

None of the insurance companies responded to a service request and Explorica had no one available for service.

Travis Payne of Curtis Dawe Lawyers in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, worked with Sotos LLP, a Toronto law firm, to file a national class action lawsuit after thousands went without a refund canceled school trips booked through Explorica Canada Inc. (Bruce Tilley / CBC)

The class action lawsuit calls for full reimbursement for all families involved, as well as $ 5 million in “aggravated punitive damages” against insurance companies.

Lawyer Travis Payne with Curtis Dawe has worked for months with members of the Facebook group, Explorica Canada – Trying to Get Our Refunds. He organized Zoom Q&A sessions and collected the names of the schools and families involved.

“We have been in constant contact with various parents on the Facebook group, and we have also received over 750 emails from parents. So I think we are listening to the problems and have done our best on this file, ”he said. .

The Facebook group now has over 1,700 members representing 170 schools across the country and estimates they are owed $ 16 million, said Anne Nichol, a mother from Moncton, New Brunswick, who founded the group in August. .

“We all have a common goal. We would all love to get our money back, ”she said, adding that parents believe regulators and the federal government should do more to help them. Now they believe legal action is their only option.

WATCH | Anne Nichol describes the parents’ frustration:

Anne Nichol says parents of children whose school trips have been canceled because of COVID-19 are caught between insurance companies and the company that sold the trips when they try to get a refund. 2:27

‘Forced to do what’s right’

In the meantime, two other class actions have been filed by a separate law firm, Samfiru Tumarkin LLP of Toronto.

Lawyer Sivan Tumarkin said he was contacted several weeks ago by Scott Adnam, a former member of the Facebook group.

Last week, Tumarkin filed a class action lawsuit against Arch Insurance with Adnam and his son, Carter, as plaintiffs. On Tuesday, he filed one against ORIC, along with other plaintiffs. Neither name Explorica or WorldStrides because Tumarkin said insurance companies are the ones in the hot seat.

“I have never seen this, in all my years of practice, where you have giant corporations pointing fingers,” Tumarkin said, adding that no one disputes that families need to be paid back.

“My philosophy and certainly my firm’s philosophy is that we don’t just sit around. We are not talking.… My experience with insurance companies, there is no negotiation with them. Either they do what is right or they must be forced to do what is right. ”

Sivan Tumarkin has filed two class actions on behalf of parents who are seeking reimbursements from the Old Republic Insurance Company of Canada and Arch Insurance Canada. (Samfiru Tumarkin LLP)

Adnam’s son Carter said he was excited about a service trip to help others in Costa Rica in April and disappointed he had to cancel it.

He raised almost all of the $ 3,100 by working part-time at McDonald’s.

“We have been planning for a very long time, almost a year. We were doing a lot of team building at the time. We had all become a pretty cohesive group so it was really hard the night before to find we weren’t going, ”Carter said from his home in Guelph, Ont.

Adnam said he contacted Tumarkin because he had exhausted all avenues – appealing to companies, filing complaints with regulators and asking politicians for help.

He has not received any reimbursement to date.

“I wasn’t really sure where that [Facebook group] was headed. There were unknown variables. In the meantime, I spoke to Sivan, and he saw a very clear path forward, which seemed like the best fit for Carter at the time, ”Adnam said.

Carter Adnam worked part-time at McDonald’s to pay for most of his trip to Costa Rica. He and his father are plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit against Arch Insurance, hoping to get the money back. (Submitted by Scott Adnam)

“This is not a law firm or any other. It is about trying to recover the money to which we are entitled from the various insurers. ”

Tumarkin agreed.

“For me, the bad guys here are the insurance companies. It’s not the families. I understand why they may feel upset, but forget who is going to help you. Let’s just make these insurance companies pay, ”he said.

The shared approach upsets families

That may be true, Nichol said, but many members of the Facebook group are unhappy Adnam went out on his own and found another law firm – one that the group members had contacted earlier this summer but never got a response. of.

“The feeling of most of us is that when we [Tumarkin LLP] thought it was primarily an Atlantic Canadian affair, they weren’t interested. And, you know, we’ve spent the last couple of months building our numbers… and now all of a sudden this other company is coming in, ”she said.

“At the end of the day, they’re ready to make money. So I understand that he can say that the insurance companies are the bad guys. Valid, but they didn’t, as far as I know. They didn’t do any substantive work. ”

And since there are now two legal groups involved, that will slow down the process as a judge will have to decide which class action suit should be certified, she said.

Once certified, all eligible families are automatically members, regardless of the province they live in, unless they opt out.

A spokesperson for the Financial Services Regulatory Authority of Ontario said it is not ignoring the concerns of families. However, Serena Yau said families should make sure their insurers have the information they need to assess their claims under the terms of the policy.

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