The Federal High Court sitting in Lagos has ordered Associated Airline to pay the sum of N246million as compensation to Ese Falae, the wife of late Deji Falae.
Justice Hadizat Shagari gave the order while delivering a judgment that lasted for about two hours on Wednesday.
Deji, a former Commissioner for Culture and Tourism in Ondo State died on October 3, 2013, when an Associated Aviation aircraft conveying the remains of a former governor of Ondo State, Olusegun Agagu, from Lagos to Ondo for burial crashed at the Lagos airport.
The aircraft reportedly crashed just outside the aerodrome at about 9:32 am, a minute after it took off.
Consequently, the widow of the late commissioner and her three children acting as the plaintiffs had sued the airline, asking the court to hold that the airline’s negligence was responsible for Falae’s death.
They urged the court to declare that Associated Aviation Nigeria Limited and the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) failed in their obligation of ensuring the safety of the passengers aboard the Flight 361.
In her ruling, Justice Shagari held that, “From the evidence of the principal witness Ese Falae, the widow, the fact of the case was that the first defendant, Associated Airline and the second defendant, the Nigeria Civil Aviation Agency (NCAA) cannot exonerate themselves from the circumstances surrounding the crash of the aircraft that claimed the life of Deji Falae.
“In my view, the plaintiffs succeed in their claims against the defendants, judgement is hereby entered in their favour as per their claims.”
Earlier, Ese and her children had dragged the defendants before the court demanding for a compensation in the sum of $100,000 as general damages, as well as another N245.5million which they calculated their breadwinner would have made in 15 years, as a lawyer, a commissioner and owner of a construction firm, had he not died.
In the alternative, they asked the court to order the defendants to pay them the sums of N108,527,750, £160,740 and $19,000 as special damages for alleged breaches of the defendants’ respective duties under the Civil Aviation Act 2006, Fatal Accident Act 1846 and Fatal Accident Law of Lagos State.
They also wanted the court to order the defendants to bear the cost of filing the lawsuit, which they put at N5m.
In specific terms of damages, the plaintiffs claimed that as at the time of the death of the deceased, he made about N10million annually from his law firm practice.
As a commissioner in Ondo state, they said he received the sum of N5million annually as employment income and that he also made N20million annually from his building and construction business.
According to them, a total of N8.750million was expended annually by the deceased as his living expenses, and so he would have made N262.5 million in 15 years.
The widow said further that as the breadwinner, the deceased until his death paid the rent of a five-bedroom duplex at Dolphin Estate in Lagos where they lived with him until his untimely death and since his death, the burden of paying the rent has been on her.
She also stated that the deceased would have equally paid the school fees of his children to the completion of their education.
It was also the practice of the deceased to pay all expenses of the plaintiffs for at least a five-day vacation outside Nigeria every year.
The plaintiffs also said they incurred the sum of N2.5million as expenses during the funeral of the deceased carried out on November 14, 2013, which would not have been incurred had the defendants, not by their wrongful act, neglect or default caused the death of the deceased.
The plaintiffs said they also incurred legal practitioners’ fees in the sum of N5million in prosecuting the suit.
But Associated Airlines had referred to the suit as “gold digging” in their statement of defence filed before the court and denied almost all the claims of the widow.
The company also denied that it was negligent in handling the aircraft. It said it was not in any way liable to the plaintiffs as claimed in their statement of claim.
In further denial of the claim, the airline claimed that there was nothing wrong with the aircraft at the time of take-off, neither did the aircraft develop any mechanical faults as it was thoroughly checked prior to take-off.
The defendants specifically contended that the plaintiffs are neither experts nor the statutory body responsible for investigating accidents of such nature and there was nothing before the court to show or prove negligence on their part.
According to them, the widow was alleged to have collected agreement forms to receive an initial immediate payment of $30,000 and promised to return them together with the necessary documentation linking her with the deceased but failed to do so till date.
They, therefore, concluded that the claims of the plaintiffs amount to gold digging and urged the court to dismiss the suit with substantial costs, as it was frivolous and lacks merit.
The second defendant, NCAA on its part, absolved itself from the cause of the crash claiming it was not negligent in the performance of its oversight functions duties.
But in the end, the court found in favour of the plaintiffs and against the defendants.