What a Formidable team!
Four second year Common Law students, Taylor Bain, Meredith Ball, Diane Hwang and Ritesh Kotak, are the FORMidable Solutions team.
The team created a free airline refund complaint generator targeted at travelers who had their flights cancelled due to COVID-19 when travelling, to, from or via the United States. This document automation tool, named the "Covid Cancellations DOT Complaint Generator", was created through the Bucerius Legal Tech/Documate "Law is for Everyone Challenge". The generator was among a few of the projects selected, worldwide, to be finalists.
In August, it was announced the team was the official runner up in the “Law for Everyone” international competition. The automated workflow has been used to generate over 2000 legal documents. Assuming $1,000 per claim, that’s $2 million.
The students chose to donate their $250 USD prize to the COVID-19 Rapid Response Fund from the Ottawa Community Foundation. When they approached the Faculty of Law, Common Law Section to match their contribution, the Faculty enthusiastically agreed, as doing so was perfectly aligned with the Faculty priorities and philosophies of being an active and positive community member.
“It is really important to our group that we continue to give back, promote access to justice, and highlight the incredible opportunity we were given by the Faculty of Law at the University of Ottawa.” – Taylor Bain
“What an incredible accomplishment! Bravo!” – Dean Adam Dodek
More than just a project created to win a competition, the app aimed to help travelers. The tool allows users to file a legal complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation (US DOT). These complaints are a step that consumers can take instead of navigating the often-frustrating airlines customer services channels. Consumers seeking refund input key information into the generator, which then generates a formal legal complaint document that can be presented to the US DOT. The team created a dynamic and informative video on how to use the documentation automation tool and offer their form online.
Taylor Bain, one of the co-founders, recently answered a few questions about the FORMidable Solutions team’s recent endeavours.
How did you hear of the Bucerius Legal Tech/Documate "Law is for Everyone Challenge"?
We heard of the challenge while taking part in the Passport to Practice program, which is put on in partnership with Bucerius Law School. This program—delivered by powerhouse jurists, academics, and practitioners—focuses on developing the practice-ready knowledge and skills lawyers need across people, process, and technology topics. All participants were encouraged to take part in the competition.
What made your team choose this specific project to tackle the issue of refund for cancelled US flights?
We, as a team, noticed a gap between airlines and consumers, which has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only are consumers being left without their vacations, they are also being misled by airlines as to their right to a refund. We understand that airlines are struggling right now, but so are consumers, many of whom have lost their jobs, and consumers cannot be expected to hold the bag for the airlines’ losses.
Why focus on the U.S. and not Canada?
On April 3, 2020, the US Department of Transportation (DOT) issued an Enforcement Notice reminding airlines of their obligation to refund cancelled flights in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic. In contrast, Canada's regulatory agency (Canadian Transport Agency) has seemingly allowed airlines to provide vouchers/credits as opposed to refunds to consumers, despite consumers having a right to a refund. Nevertheless, this tool is not restricted to Americans. Anyone who had a flight to, from, or connecting within the United States (including layovers) can use the tool and file a complaint with the DOT as it falls under DOT jurisdiction.
Taylor was invited by CTV Atlantic, along with Dr. Gabor Lukacs, who is the President of Air Passenger Rights Canada, to discuss the FORMidable Solutions tool. At the time of publishing this article, Inter Alia, Western Aviation News and Canadian Aviation News published articles about the project.