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Air Canada Found Liable for Negligent Misrepresentation by Chatbot

Moffatt v. Air Canada, 2024 BCCRT 149 (CanLII)

Reading Time: 5 minutes (approx.)

By: Jadrien Hong & J. Charles Foster, K.C.

On November 11, 2022, Jake Moffatt (the Applicant) visited Air Canada’s website to book a last-minute flight to Toronto due to the death of a close family member. The Applicant sought information regarding Air Canada’s bereavement fares through a chatbot on the Air Canada website, which advised that customers may submit an application for bereavement fares prior to the flight or within 90 days following the flight and directed to the Bereavement travel webpage for more information. Accordingly, the Applicant paid the full fare for their travel to Toronto and submitted an application to receive a partial refund under Air Canada’s bereavement policy on November 17, 2022. Air Canada (the Respondent) denied Mr. Moffatt’s application on the grounds that the bereavement fare could not be applied after the travel had already occurred, as stated on its Bereavement travel webpage, and admitted that the chatbot had provided misleading information.

The Applicant brought the within dispute to British Columbia’s Civil Resolution Tribunal (the CRT). The Applicant alleged that the Respondent negligently misrepresented the bereavement fare policy, causing financial loss. As Tribunal Member Christopher C. Rivers wrote in the CRT’s decision, to prove this, the Applicant “must show that Air Canada owed them a duty of care, its representation was untrue, inaccurate, or misleading, Air Canada made the representation negligently, Mr. Moffatt reasonably relied on it, and Mr. Moffatt’s reliance resulted in damages” [para 25].

The CRT applied these conditions to this matter as follows: The Respondent had a duty of care to the Applicant due to the nature of the service provider / consumer relationship. Both parties agreed that the information provided by the chatbot had been misleading. Regarding the Applicant’s alleged financial loss, the Respondent did not dispute the cost difference between the fare the Applicant paid and the amount of the bereavement fare (the value of the damages claimed by the Applicant).

The Respondent’s position was that Air Canada could not be held liable any information communicated by its agents or representatives, including the chatbot. As Tribunal Member Rivers writes, “In effect, Air Canada suggests the chatbot is a separate legal entity that is responsible for its own actions. This is a remarkable submission. While a chatbot has an interactive component, it is still just a part of Air Canada’s website. It should be obvious to Air Canada that it is responsible for all the information on its website” [para 27].

The Respondent submitted that the Applicant ought to have relied on the information provided on the Bereavement fare webpage, but Tribunal Member Rivers denied this, pointing out that the Respondent did not explain why the webpage was “inherently more trustworthy” than the chatbot or why a customer should be responsible for double checking information from one website section against another [para 28]. The CRT found that the Applicant’s reliance on the information provided by the chatbot was reasonable. It also found the Applicant’s claim that a flight would not have been purchased at the regular rate if it would not be partially refunded under the bereavement policy to be consistent with the Applicant’s conduct of researching the bereavement fare prior to booking the flight and diligently following the application instructions provided by the chatbot.

Finally, the Respondent also argued that specific contractual terms in its Domestic Tariff precluded the Applicant’s claim, but Tribunal Member Rivers dismissed this argument entirely on the basis that the Respondent did not provide a copy of the relevant sections of the Tariff. He explained that Air Canada ought to have known it needed to submit the contract in order to put forth a contractual defense, both because it is a “sophisticated litigant” and because the CRT specifically instructed both parties to provide all relevant evidence [para 31].

Ultimately, the CRT found that the Applicant had proven their claim of negligent misrepresentation and awarded damages, pre-judgement interest, and costs.

Link: https://www.canlii.org/en/bc/bccrt/doc/2024/2024bccrt149/2024bccrt149.html

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