Reprieve came the way of widow of Deji Falae, son of Chief Olu Falae, who died in the ill-fated Associated Airline crash in Lagos on October 3, 2013, as a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos, Southwest Nigeria on Wednesday granted all her claims.
In her judgment that lasted for about two hours, 19 minutes the presiding judge, Justice Hadizat Shagari said “from the evidence of the principal witness, Ese Falae, the widow, the fact of the case speak for itself, the first defendant, Associated Airline and the second defendant, Nigeria Civil Aviation Agency 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; judgment is hereby entered in their favour as per their claims.
The widow Ese Lynn Falae and her three children dragged the defendants before the court demanding for compensation in the sum of N245.5 million which they calculated their bread winner would have made in 15 years, less living expenses, cash discount and the statutory limit of One hundred thousand Dollars or in the alternative, the sums of N113,277,750, £160,740 and $19,000.
A thirty-seven paragraphs statement of claim was filed before the Court on her behalf and her three children, Ayomide, a 15 year old SSS 2 student at Day Waterman College Abeokuta; Miss Omowonuola Falae 13, the only daughter, also a JSS3 student in the same college and Oreoluwa , a 7-year old primary three pupil at Corona School, Lagos.
The affidavit filed by Olajide Oyewole stated that Deji Falae was born on 9th of October 1970 and was aged 42 at the time of his death. He was a Legal practitioner called to the Nigerian Bar. In 2013, at the time of his death, he was serving as Commissioner for Culture and Tourism in Ondo State, Nigeria.
Until his death, he also operated a law firm under the name and style of Ayodeji Falae and company. He also carried on the business of building and construction under the name West -One Resources Limited.
With the consent of Associated Aviation Nigeria Limited, he was a passenger on board the defendant’s flight 361 that took off on 3 October, 2013 from Murtala Mohammed International Airport,Lagos to Akure, Ondo State.
As part of the Ondo State Government’s funeral arrangements of the late Olusegun Agagu, former Governor of Ondo State who died on 13th of September, 2013 in Lagos, the deceased and some other Ondo State Government Official were directed by the Governor of Ondo Gtate to support the family of late Agagu for Agagu’s funeral that was scheduled to hold on 4th of October, 2013.
On 3rd of October 2013, Deji Falae, along with some Agagu family members, Ondo State Government officials, pall bearers boarded the defendant’s Flight 361 chartered to lift the remains of late Agagu from Murtala Mohammed Airport, Lagos to Akure Ondo State. At about 09.32 hours, and about a minute after take off from the airport, the aircraft crashed as a result of the wrongful act, neglect or default of the defendants. The deceased died as a result of the crash. As a result of this incident, the plaintiffs being the defendants of the deceased have suffered damages.
In a specific terms of damages, the plaintiffs claimed that as at the time of the death of the deceased, he made about N10 million annually from his law firm practice. As a Commissioner in Ondo State, he received the sum of N5 million annually as employment income. He also made N20 million annually from his building and construction business. A total of N8.750 million was expended annually by the deceased as his living expenses. He would have made N262.5 million in fifteen years.
The widow averred further that as the bread winner, the deceased until his death paid the rent of a five bedroom duplex at Dolphin Estate, Lagos where they lived with him until his untimely death, and that since his death, the burden of paying the rent has been on her.
“This wouldn’t have been if the deceased was alive. The deceased would have equally paid the school fees of his children to the completion of their education. It was 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 said.
The plaintiffs also incurred the sum of N2.5 million as expenses during the funeral of the deceased carried out on 14th November, 2013, which would not have been incurred had the plaintiffs not by their wrongful act, neglect or default caused the death of the deceased. The plaintiffs have also incurred legal practitioners’ fees in the sum of N5 million in prosecuting this suit.
However, Associated Aviation Nigeria Limited while referring to the suit as gold digging, in a statement of defence supported with written statement on oath by Taiwo Raji, its Chief Operating Officer and filed before the court by the law firm of M.A. Bashua denied almost all the averment of the widow. The company also denied that it was negligent in handling the Aircraft. It said it not in any way liable to the plaintiffs as claimed in their statement of claim.
In further denial of the claim, the airline averred that there was nothing wrong with the aircraft at the time of takeoff; neither did the aircraft develop any mechanical faults, as the aircraft was thoroughly checked prior to takeoff.
Consequently, the defendant stated that the plaintiffs were neither experts nor the statutory body responsible for investigating accidents of this nature and that there was nothing before the court to show or proof negligence on its part
The airline further contended that the plaintiffs, having not obtained letters of administration could not claim damages under common law, Fatal Accidents Act 1846 and Fatal Incidents Law of Lagos State.
The widow was alleged to have collected agreement forms to receive initial immediate payment of thirty thousand dollars and promised to return them together with the necessary documentation linking her with the deceased but failed to do so till date. Consequently, the plaintiffs’ claim of N219,906,250 amounted to gold digging.
In addition, the defendant further contended that the plaintiffs were not entitled to the reliefs being sought as they were not administrators of the estate of the alleged late Ayodeji Olaniran Falae.
It therefore urged the court to dismiss the suit with substantial costs, as the suit was frivolous and lacked merit.
However, the second defendant absolved itself from the cause of the crash, claiming it was not negligence in its performance of its oversight functions duties.
During the trial, Ese Falae testified for herself and called one other witness while the two defendants called one witness each.