(fashion) British Airways was today accused of trying to limit a potential £3billion payout over the data breach that saw cyber-hackers steal more than 500,000 customers' details.
The airline has applied to launch its own class action for victims of the hack – but with the condition that claimants must join within just 17 weeks of its opening.
Legal experts claim this is an 'unprecedented' action designed to limit payouts to customers, with a consumer rights law firm branding the move a 'disgrace'.
But BA vehemently insisted anyone can join the group action - with permission of the courts - or launch an individual claim outside the 17-week period. It added that the proposed limit was suggested by a law firm representing victims rather than BA.
British Airways has applied to launch its own class action for victims of the data breach
The airline, which was crippled by strike action earlier this week, was fined a record £183million by the Information Commissioner's Office in July for the cyber attack.
Some 185,000 customers had their details compromised between April and July last year, and a further 380,000 were hit by the breach between August and September.
Victims could receive as much as £16,000 each in cases where psychological injury is extreme, while average compensation payments for distress could reach £6,000.
Financial losses from any fraud resulting from the data hack will also be claimed.
The High Court in London will hold a hearing in the Chancery Division next month on October 4 to decide if BA's class action can go ahead.
Legal experts claimed previous group litigation orders of a similar scale have only been applied for by claimants, rather than defendants.
One victim of the hack was Michelle Dewberry (pictured), the former winner of BBC reality show The Apprentice, who was on holiday in Vietnam when she found out about the breach
They added that the court would only allow such a short window for claimants if BA could guarantee that all its affected customers have been notified.
John Cruickshank's details were compromised in both BA data hacks.
The 49-year-old finance worker from Stratford, East London, was on his way to Heathrow Airport on December 30 last year to spend New Year's Eve in Copenhagen with friends.
But his credit card was declined at a hotel before his morning flight.
He read about the data breach when it was announced on September 7, 2018. Later that day, BA told him he had been caught up in the second breach and his card was immediately cancelled.
His personal data, including credit card details, had been compromised after he had booked return flights from London to Edinburgh.
But he never received notice from BA that his card and details were affected in the first breach – when he had bought flights to the Danish capital.
While Mr Cruickshank has not faced any direct fraud due to the breaches, he still feels frustrated by BA's response, saying: 'They haven't been that apologetic, especially considering I was affected by both breaches.'
Speaking about the proposed 17-week cut-off date for joining the group action, he said: 'The window is far too short, they're trying to pass the buck and play a blame game.'
But a BA spokesman told MailOnline this afternoon: 'British Airways has been working continuously with specialist cyber forensic investigators and the National Crime Agency to fully investigate the data theft.
'It was a law firm representing prospective complainants who suggested the timeframe (of 17 weeks), and this will have to be agreed by the court. It does not prevent customers joining the group claim at a later date.'
Sources at BA also dispute the figure of £3billion - which was achieved by multiplying the average estimated payout of £6,000 by 500,000 customers - and claim the action is not unprecedented.
It is also understood that applicants could bring a claim within the group - or outside it - throughout the litigation process, which could take years.
Your Lawyers, a legal firm representing claimants in the breach, said just 6,000 people are estimated to have contacted lawyers to try to claim compensation.
Jonathan Whittle from the company claimed the 17-week period was originally proposed by a legal firm as being a cut-off date from when BA would send notice to all the affected customers to say there is a group litigation order.
Asked if people could proceed with a claim