Court awards N10m damages against construction company over death of worker

A Lagos State High Court presided over by Hon. Justice Adedayo Oyebanji has awarded N10 Million in general damages against an engineering company,  Mak & Mak Limited, over the negligent death of a technician, Mr. Charles Chidi Obinweugo while working on its premises. The sum was awarded for the resultant loss of support for Mr. Obinweugo’s widow, children and aged mother. 

The deceased died on March 7, 2018, after the defendant engaged him to repair a Benut 500 piling crane machine at the company’s premises as a technician. The deceased fell off to the ground from the 40 feet high crane, burst his skull and spilled his brain. Medical report indicated that he died of cardiopulmonary arrest as a result of severe head injury sustained from the fall. 

The deceased’s dependents, particularly his wife filed Suit No. LD/ADR/2108/2018, Mrs. Juliana Alioma Obinweugo & Anor. v Mak & Mak Limited, claiming N50 Million in general damages.

Their counsel, Chijioke Emeka, SAN, argued that the company owed a duty of care to provide the deceased with required safety kit and also ensure that he was fully kitted before going up on the machine to effect repairs. Against the defence that kits were given to him, claimants relied on res ipsa loquitor.

Justice Adedayo Oyebanji

The claimants’ case was that the deceased died as a result of negligence, the defendant having breached its duty of care to ensure provision of safety kits on its premises and their mandatory usage before they allow access to the crane. It was argued that the claimants had suffered psychological trauma and unmitigated loss as a result of the death of the breadwinner of the family who left behind a widow, three young children, an aged mother and other dependents.  

The defendant’s counsel, Mr. Chibuzor Aguocha denied that the defendant was negligent. Learned counsel contended that the defendant provided safety kits but the deceased failed to use them. Counsel further argued that the deceased died due to his negligence, having gone up the crane without kits. The defendant contended that rather than pay compensation, it commiserated with the family and assisted them towards burial costs. Three witnesses testified, the deceased’s elder brother, Pastor Godwin Obinweugo (CW1); his widow, Juliana (CW2); and the defendant’s maintenance manager, Anthony, who testified as DW 1. 

In its judgment, the Court held that the defendant was negligent in not ensuring that the deceased used safety kits before climbing up the crane within the defendant’s premises and under its full control. It found DW1 not to be a witness of truth having contradicted himself during cross-examination. DW1, who stated in his written testimony that the deceased failed to use provided kits, later testified that the deceased went up kitted, and then found dead without the kits. The court held that the police report supported that the deceased died without kits.

Justice Oyebanji held that the deceased breached its duty of care to the deceased, although he was contributorily negligent for not using the kits. The Court therefore found that the deceased’s widow, three young children and aged mother suffered damage as a result of his death and awarded N10 Million in general damages, post judgment interest of 10% per annum until full liquidation of the judgment sum; and N500, 000 as costs of the suit in their favour.

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