Court orders Rev Chris Kwakpovwe’s church to pay N9m to lady for injury sustained at crusade venue
Miss Tamara Egbedi on January 22, 2010 attended Lagos-based The Chapel of Liberty’s crusade to seek God’s favour in the new year only to be rushed away from the venue at the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos State, after sustaining injuries that would later cost her about N2.4m to treat.
She was said to have fallen headlong into an uncovered concrete gutter shortly after arriving at the venue at about some minutes past 9pm on the fateful day.
“The vigil was tagged or titled, ‘Begin the year with power at a night of anointing for evidence’,” Justice Samuel Candide-Johnson of the Family and Probate Division of the High Court of Lagos State, Ikeja, had noted in his judgment handed down in April this year against the organisers of the religious event.
The judge added, “Unfortunately and ironically for the claimant, the year 2010 began with the ‘negative evidence of considerable injuries to her person as evidenced by the photographs and medical reports corroborated by the earlier identified medical doctors who testified as CW1 and CW3,”
Justice Candide-Johnson, in the judgment delivered on April 9, 2018, but which its certified true copy was obtained by our correspondent on Monday, held the host church, The Chapel of Liberty, and its presiding pastor, Rev. Chris Kwakpovwe, liable for the injuries sustained by Egbedi.
Adjudging them liable for negligence and failure to discharge their “duty of care”, the judge ordered the church and Kwakpovwe to pay a total sum of N9.454m to the claimant.
Although Egbedi had, in her suit, prayed for N20m as “general damages”, the judge ordered the church and its pastor to pay N7m to her in that regard.
But the judge granted without any reduction in the amount prayed for, her prayer for N1,454,000 as “special damages” to cover the cost of the initial treatment, and her request another N1m as the cost of completing the treatment.
The judgment came as a stern warning to organisers of various religious and social events with likely huge crowd to diligently put safety measures in place.
The verdict which was handed down about seven years after the dispute over the injuries suffered by the claimant occurred could be an eye-opener to many, like Egbedi, who had suffered various forms of injuries due to the negligence on the part of the organisers of such events.
Many at the crusade organised by the Chapel of Liberty were said to have suffered various degrees of injuries like Egbedi but decided to be silent about their fate.
Justice Candide-Johnson remarked in his judgment, “I am impressed with the evidence of CW4 (Egbedi testifying for herself as the fourth claimant’s witness) that when she was rushed to the defendant‘s ambulance unit at the venue after the injurious incident that she met other victims of the same open gutter and that people there exclaimed that the claimant was yet another victim of the defendant’s failure, and negligence to adequately place light; and ushers and/or safeguards to prevent these accidents and injuries in a rented space contractually designated, occupied and controlled by the defendants exclusively for the period of 8pm till dawn on that day.”
Egbedi had, through her lawyers, Mr. Dapo Akinosun and Mr. Ayodeji Jolaosho of the Lagos-based SimmonsCooper Partners, filed the suit after she demanded compensation through a letter dated March 3, 2010 from the church and only for the church’s lawyers to later send a reply in which they denied their clients’ liability but indicated the church’s offer to assist her with only N100,000.
The church’s lawyers said in their reply that “the monetary offer of the sum of N100,000” was “out of charity” which the church “being a ministry devoted to the spread of the word of God which encourages charitable deeds”.
The church’s legal team ended the letter by daring Egbedi to go to court, telling her lawyers that “your client’s claim is a gold-digging venture, howbeit, if she feels strongly about it we expect to meet you in court”.
But contrary to the defence put forward by The Chapel of Liberty and the pastor, Kwakpovwe, Justice Candide-Johnson held that they were negligent and failed to discharge the “duty of care” which they owed the general public part of which was the claimant invited to the January 22, 2010 event.
The judge in arriving at this conclusion assessed the documentary exhibits and testimonies of an orthodontist, Dr. Modupe Olayinka, who testified as the claimant’s first witness; Egbedi’s sister, Ebiere Egbedi, who testified as the claimant’s second witness; a dental surgeon, Dr. Oluyemisi Fadahunsi, the claimant’s third witness; the claimant’s herself as the fourth claimant’s fourth witness, and Rev. Kwakpovwe, as the sole witness for the defence.
The judge noted that from the evidence adduced in the course of the trial “the claimant falls squarely within the qualification of an invitee by the defendants to the premises controlled by the defendants where she was grievously injured”.
Descending heavily on the defendants for their negligence, the judge noted,”It is difficult not to observe that for the defendants who put themselves forward as spiritual shepherds of their sheep that they appear to have demonstrated scant care and concern for victims of their January 2010 spiritual crusade and have likewise by the letter of their lawyers (Exhibit F) daring this claimant to go to court, the defendants appear to have elected carnal warfare over spiritual warfare thus leaving it to the court of law to intervene.”
Egbedi had claimed in her suit that she got invitation for the crusade through the church’s monthly devotional booklet, ‘Daily Manna’ which is widely sold in Nigeria and other countries.
She stated that she with her sister, Ebiere Egbedi, and her cousin, arrived the venue, the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos State, some minutes past 9pm only to find out that the hall was full to capacity.
She and her relatives were said to have found out that the organisers of the crusade provided seats outside the hall.
In the course of searching for available seats outside the hall, she was said to have fallen “headlong” into an uncovered gutter, sustaining injuries as a result of what her lawyer described as “the negligence” of the defendants.
The defendants failed to place signs and position ushers in the area of the overflow outside the hall, the claimant’s lawyers had contended.
But the church and its pastor blamed the incident on the National Sports Commission, the manager of the National Stadium and which rented out the venue to the church.
The NSC was later joined as a party to the suit upon an application by the church and the pastor, Kwakpovwe.
They argued through their lawyers that they could not have owed everybody “…duty of care is with the National Sports Commission in as much as the claimant visited the National Stadium”.
But the judge described the attempt by the church to heap the blame on the NSC as was cowardly and irresponsible.
“It is in my view, cowardly and irresponsible to invite a guest to your house or other venue for your independent event and then turn to blame the third party for your own want of care and want of organisational due diligence,” the judge said.
He also said, “lt is virtually ridiculous for Rev. Dr. Chris E. Kwakpovwe (DW1) as the presiding pastor, and a registered Trustee of Marina Mirade Mountain Ministry and the publisher/writer of ‘Our Daily Mama’ (Exhibit 1) to invite the general public and the claimant to a programme which they expected to and which ‘recorded a huge attendance’ and then without any remorse or conscience, argued that they only rented a space at the National Stadium so he and his religious ministry owed no duty of care or concern for the welfare and safety of the guests they had invited to their own spiritual ‘party’ or event organised by them.
“It is this type of reckless impunity and ‘conscientiouslessness’ that makes many people complain about callousness and wickedness in Nigeria.”
The judge in exonerating NSC, said the commission “rented space to the defendants and it was the defendants who structured, arranged and independently organised their event to their own taste and standards”.
The judge added, “In Exhibit C the NSC letter dated 17/12/2009 approved the defendants’ request ‘for the use of open space’ as the defendants’ own event venue ‘from 8pm till dawn’.
“Exhibit C directed the defendants to liaise with the NSC’s officer “to arrange for the clearinng of the venue and other logistics to ensure a ‘hitch-free programme’.
“There is no evidence whatsoever from DW1 (Rev. Kwakpovwe testifying as the only defence witness) or the defendants of any arrangements they undertook regarding logistics calculated to ‘ensure a hitch-free’ event or to ensure the safety and welfare of the claimant and their other invited guests.”
Relying on the cases of INTERNATIONAL lNSTITUTE OF TROPlCAL AGRICULTURE Vs. AMRAM AMI AMRAMI (1994) 3 NWLR (Pt 331) 296, and WHEAT and LACON & C0 (1966) AC 552 at 589, cited by the claimants’ lawyers, the judge held that the defendants were caught by the concept and principle of “occupiers’ liability”.
The judge explained that the principle was founded on “occupational control, a control associated with and arising from a presence in and use of or activity in a premises”.
He added that under the principle, “an occupier is a person having sufficient degree of control over premises as to place him under a duty of care towards those persons who lawfully come into the premises in circumstances where the occupier ought to realise that a failure on his part to use care may result in injury to a person coming unto the premises”.
Relating the principle to Egbedi’s case, the judge said, “lnter-alia, from Exhibit C (supra) from NSC the defendants were the occupiers of the crusade premises and are caught by the principle of occupiers’ liability with a duty of care to the claimant.
“The very same duty of care espoused in DONOGHUE V. Stevenson (supra).
“Claimant’s counsel again aptly has referenced to sections 7, 8 and 9 of the Law Reform (Tort) Law of Lagos State (Cap L64) for the codification of occupiers’ liability in Nigeria qua Lagos State as it retains liability on an occupier, such as the defendants, in respect of their invitees such as this claimant.
“l hold, without equivocation, that the defendants owed the claimant a duty of care in this case.”
The judge also dismissed the defendants’ contention of “contributory negligence” which he said was not proved against the claimant.
He also held that the claim that Egbedi was injured at O’Jay Hotel and not the venue of the event was not proved.
He held that “the defendants were in patent breach of that duty on the pleadings and evidence adduced as earlier discussed by me, thereby entitling the claimant to consideration for compensation and/or damages”.
In awarding damages against the church and its pastor, the judge took into account that the dispute had to drag for about seven years due to what he described as “the unwillingness of the defendants to take responsibility for their negligence and the impunity associated with their conduct in the brinkmanship”.
He ruled, “Taking into account the considerations and principles in the above cases and having regard to the credible documentary and expert medical evidence adduced by the claimant, the measure of special damages, strictly proved by the Claimant (qua Exhibits 1-18) through Dr. Oluyemisi Fadahunsi, totaling N1‚454,000 succeeds as does the N1m costs for the completion of the claimant’s medical treatment also succeeds.
“With respect to N20m general damages, taking into account the unwillingness of the defendants to take responsibility for their negligence and the impunity associated with their conduct in the brinkmanship that has led to this seven years old litigation, general Damages of an exemplanary nature of N7million Naira is awarded in favour of the Claimant against the 1st and 2nd defendants.
“Both the general and special damages above are awarded jointly and severally against both defendants payable forthwith.”Punch