Law News
Dana aircrash: Court hears victims’ N579m suit Dec 12

A Federal High Court in Lagos has further adjourned till December 12, 2015 for report of settlement between Dana Airlines Limited and one Pastor Omowumi Oluranti.

Oluranti and his co-plaintiff are seeking compensation in the sum of N579.5m for the losses they suffered when an aircraft belonging to Dana Airlines crashed onto their landed property on June 3, 2012.

The said aircraft, a McDonnel Douglas 83 aircraft with number 5N-RAM, operated as flight AJ-992, had reportedly crashed at about 3.35pm on June 3, 2012 around Iju-Ishaga in Lagos, killing all 153 persons on board.

Oluranti, a furniture maker and fish farmer, claimed that the ill-fated aircraft crashed onto his landed property which doubled as his residence and place of business.

According to him, the property situated on four plots of land at Iju-Ishaga, included a newly-completed six-bedroomed duplex (all ensuite) with a pent house, and a four-bedroomed bungalow with two large sitting rooms.

Also situated on the land, according to Oluranti, were four fish ponds, containing 4,770 table-weight fishes valued at over N2m, as well as two standard warehouses, housing various furniture materials and equipment and finished products.

He also claimed to have lost a Nissan Xtera SUV bought for his wife at N1.6m as well as electronic gadgets, clothes and many other household items.

Also destroyed were properties of a book publishing company, Thursmay Educational Services Limited, which sued alongside Oluranti as the second plaintiff.

Oluranti and Thursmay are seeking compensation for general damages, loss of property, loss of income and accrued interest on loan facilities.

The plaintiffs claimed to have instituted the suit in 2013 following a breakdown in settlement talks between them and the airline.

They had accused the airline and its insurer, Prestige Assurance Plc, of making it unambiguous that they had no intention to settle them.

Oluranti, who said following the crash his family squatted at a church facility, however admitted to have been paid $30,000 (N4.7m) by the airline as a cost of resettlement.

But the two plaintiffs said what the airline proposed to offer them through a letter dated June 6, 2013, was “a far cry and a humiliating offer from the claims submitted by the 1st and 2nd plaintiffs respectively” in their letter dated June 20, 2012.

“The 1st and 3rd defendants and their solicitors throughout the settlement negotiations have been oppressive, inhuman and nonchallant in total disregard to the suffering and unfortunate plight of the 1st and 2nd plaintiffs who, by the direct act of the 1st defendant, have become hopeless and helpless victims of the situation they did not create.

“The plaintiffs aver that the positions they were before the crash has been greatly and adversely altered by time, so much so that merely putting the plaintiffs back to the positions they were before the crash, without more, would be injustice.

“Apart from the inconveniences suffered, the financial fortune of the plaintiffs has been stagnated from the 3rd of June, 2012 till date,” Oluranti and Thursmay claimed.

Joined as 2nd defendant in their suit is the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, which the plaintiffs said had called the parties to settlement meetings on October 17 and 22, 2012, but which the plaintiffs said did not yield any positive result.

The plaintiffs dragged NCAA to court, claiming the the agency had “failed to ensure the speedy settlement of the plaintiffs’ claims by the 1st defendant as no further steps were taken by the 2nd defendant in that regard; rather the 2nd defendant gave the 1st defendant permission to commence flight operations while the businesses of the plaintiffs remained grounded indefinitely.”

But in opposition to the plaintiffs’ claims, the airline and its insurer filed a statement of defence and counter-claims.

They urged the court to strike out the suit because the plaintiffs’ claims were improperly pleaded, exaggerated, speculative and amounted to an abuse of court processes in the face of Order 16(4) of the Federal High Court Rules.

The 1st and 3rd defendants argued that the plaintiffs failed to state a legal premise, liability or cause of action against them.

They urged the court to disregard portions of the plaintiffs’ statement of claims which made reference to “privileged, without prejudice, settlement discussions and correspondences.”

According to them, the court could not admit in evidence or rely on the content of those settlement negotiations and correspondences by virtue of Section 196 of the Evidence Act 2011.

The airline argued that by virtue of Article 49(2) of the Civil Aviation Act 2006 all it could accept as liability were verifiable and quantifiable losses which the plaintiffs could prove rather than liability for psychological trauma, hardship and inconveniences that the plaintiffs were also claiming.

“The 1st plaintiff, as a self-employed businessman, is put to the proof of his loss of income through appropriate tax returns, which can no doubt be obtained from the Lagos State Internal Revenue Service.

“The 1st defendant contends that the crash site has been compulsorily acquired by the Lagos State Government for public use.

“The 1st plaintiff is hereby put on notice to produce the originals of the compulsory acquisition notices, correspondence and/or receipt evidencing payment,” the airline said.

As for the insurance company, it said it did not have any legal connection with the plaintiffs in any way.

“There is no privity of contract between either the 1st or 2nd plaintiff and the 3rd defendant and no direct cause of action exists against the 3rd defendant,” the insurance company said.

Both the airline and the insurance company urged the court to order the plaintiffs to indemnify them for the needless legal expenses they had incurred following the filing and the manner in which proceedings in the plaintiffs’ suit were conducted.

Justice Saliu Saidu has adjourned till December 12, 2015 for the parties to return to court to give report of settlement.

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