Thursday, April 26, 2012

Jetstar out of pocket even if it wins wheelchair appeal

Jetstar out of pocket even if it wins wheelchair appeal

JETSTAR may well be pondering how many extra wheelchairs it could have provided for disabled passengers, as it weighs the dollar cost of what constitutes ''public interest'' in a disability discrimination stoush in the Federal Court.
Jetstar and Virgin Australia have been accused of discrimination by Sheila King, 78, who is reliant on a wheelchair as a result of post-polio syndrome, and a car crash in 2008. At stake is the business model of the low-cost airlines, which restrict wheelchair-assisted passengers to two per flight.
It was Jetstar's tight margins as a low-cost operator that convinced Federal Court judge Justice Alan Robertson that although Mrs King had been discriminated against, Jetstar was allowed to do so because of ''unjustifiable hardship'' provisions. Mrs King has appealed.

It was the question of litigating in the ''public interest'' that swayed the court this week to agree to a protective costs order that will see Jetstar out of pocket, even if Mrs King loses.
Justice Nye Perram agreed to Mrs King's request to cap costs at $10,000, saying the public interest proposition being put was that ''low-cost operators ought not be achieving their margins at the expense of disabled persons''. Mrs King is being represented pro bono and with some legal aid funding.
The judge was sympathetic to Jetstar's position - and that at the initial trial costs were capped at $20,000. Jetstar has estimated its appeal costs lie between $100,000-$180,000. No date has been set for the appeal or the Virgin Australia trial.

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