Appeal Court indicts Air France over gross negligence
NIGERIAN Court of Appeal, sitting at Lagos Division, has indicted the French national carrier, Air France, (Appellant), over what it considered as ‘gross negligence of the duty of care’ to a Nigerian passenger, Mrs. Brenda Akpan (Plaintiff/Respondent), who suffered severe injuries while on board the airline’s aircraft from Lagos to Paris, France.
While on board Air France to Hong Kong via Paris in 1997, and while she was fast asleep, an object fell on her from the luggage compartment of the aircraft which caused her serious bodily harm.
On the strength of this evidence, she proceeded to the high court to lay her complaint and to persuade the court to award her damages for the tort of negligence.
The appellant disagreed with the respondent in its defence, arguing that the injuries suffered by her was not as a result of the airline’s negligence caused by a fallen object.
But the court below rejected this argument and ruled in favour of the respondent.
On appeal, the three members of the appellate panel: Justices Uzo I. Ndukwe-Anyanwu, Tijani Abubakar and Yargata Byenchit Nimpa, in a unanimous decision dismissed the appeal brought by Air France and affirmed the judgment of the court below in favour of Mrs. Akpan. The lower court had earlier found the airline liable and awarded damages to Mrs.
Akpan thus: N130, 000, plus Naira equivalent of 430 French Francs as special damages, USD 20,000 as general damages, and interest on the judgment sums herein at the rate of 6% per annum until the liquidation of the judgment sum.
It was these awards the lower court granted the respondent that the appellant went to the Court of Appeal to set aside.
But disappointingly, the appellate court did not agree with it on the three issues it formulated for determination. Instead, the higher court affirmed the judgment, and thereafter directed the appellant to make those payments to respondent as awarded by the court below.
Summary of judgment:
This matter borders on tort of negligence and the fact is as follows:
The Respondent purchased an airline ticket from the Appellant, wherein the Appellant contracted to transport the Respondent by air from Lagos to Hong Kong via France on the 4th of July, 1997.
Whilst aboard, the Appellant’s aircraft flight AF 755 from Lagos to Paris, the Respondent alleged that while she was seated and asleep a heavy object fell from the luggage compartment on her head from which she sustained injury. She, therefore, brought this suit at the lower court whereof she claimed as follows:
. The sum of $280,000 US dollars as damages for bodily injuries, pain and suffering sustained by the Plaintiff caused by the gross negligence of the Defendant whilst aboard its flight AF 755 on the 4th of July, 1997 from Lagos to Hong Kong via Paris.
. The sum of USD 5000 being medical expenses.
The Defendant filed a Statement of Defence denying that the injuries suffered by the Plaintiff/Respondent were due to the fall of any object.
Parties led evidence in support of their respective pleadings. The trial judge in its considered judgment found the Appellant liable and awarded the following to the plaintiff:
. N130, 000 plus Naira equivalent of 430 French Francs as special damages
. USD 20,000 as general damages.
. Interest on the judgment sums herein at the rate of 6% per annum until the liquidation of the judgment sum. Dissatisfied with the judgment, the Appellant appealed, formulating three issues for determination:
. Whether the lower court was right to have delivered Judgment in favour of the Respondent even when the Respondent failed woefully to prove her case on the preponderance of evidence.
. Whether it was proper that the lower court awarded damages in favour of the Respondent without applying the provisions of Articles 20 and 21 of the Warsaw Convention, and
. Whether the lower court was right to have awarded the quantum of damages which the Appellant considers excessive and not commensurate with the alleged injury suffered by the Respondent.
The Respondent on the other hand formulated two issues for determination:
. On whom did the burden of proof in this case lie? And was it discharged in accordance with Article 17 of the Warsaw Convention 1929 as amended?
. Was the award of damages by the trial judge in favour of the Plaintiff in accordance with the Law and especially the Warsaw Convention 1929 as amended?
The Respondent raised an objection as regards the failure of the Appellant’s counsel to present any issue for determination or any arguments in support of Ground 4 of his Notice of Appeal upon which the Respondent said the ground should be deemed abandoned and struck out accordingly based on the above failure.
The appeal was found unmeritorious and dismissed.
The judgment of the lower court including the special and general damages awarded therein and the interest of 6% awarded was affirmed.
Cost of N50,000 was awarded to the Respondent against the Appellant.