Armel’s Transport Ltd V. Madam Atinuke Martins (1970) LLJR-SC

Armel’s Transport Ltd V. Madam Atinuke Martins (1970)

LawGlobal-Hub Lead Judgment Report

LEWIS, J.S.C.

In suit LD/33/66 the plaintiff claimed (pound)3,22
damages for the negligent driving by the defendants driver of an omnibus which collided with the plaintiff’s tipper on the Lagos/lkorodu Road on the 10th of November, 1965. On the 12th of September, 1966, Omololu, J. gave judgement for the plaintiff on her claim for (pound)1 ,218 as damages together with 20 guineas costs and against that decision the defendants have appealed to this Court.

The plaintiff in her statement of claim set out the particulars of negligence as follows-
Particulars of Negligence
(a) Driving too fast and/or at a speed that was excessive in the circumstances.
(b) Failing to keep any or any proper lookout or to have any or any sufficient regard for traffic emerging from the said bridge.
(c) Emerging onto the bridge without first ascertaining or ensuring  whether it was safe so to do and when it was unsafe and dangerous so to do.
(d) Driving onto the wrong side of the road.
(e) Failing to give the said Bedford tipper any or any sufficient time to leave the immediate approach to the Owode bridge.
(f) Failing to stop, to slow down or in any other way so to manage or control the said omnibus as to avoid the said collision.
(g) Colliding with the said Bedford tipper at the said Owode bridge.”
The defendants denied liability but in paragraph 6 of their statement of defence pleaded

“6. The defendants state that before the action was commenced by the plaintiff, the defendants, on 4th January, 1966 tendered to the plaintiff’s solicitor, Mr A. A. Lambo, the sum of (pound)373 in an effort to settle the plaintiff’s claim out of court and as act of good gestures on their part and now bring that some into court”,
in order as Mr Sofola informed us to comply with Order XXVII, rule 5 of the Supreme Court (Civil Procedure) Rules (which are the rules of court in force in the Lagos High Court) which deals with the effect of payment into court coupled with a denial of liability.

The plaintiff did not however here seek to take out money paid in.
After reviewing the evidence the learned trial judge in his judgement dealt first with the question of proof that the driver of the omnibus was in fact the defendants’ driver and held that he was (an issue not raised before us on this appeal) and then turning to the issue of negligence said
“I would prefer to accept the evidence of the police officer as shown in the sketch of the accident (exhibit J). This proves that the omnibus had left its side of the road and had careered to the wrong side of the road before the collision. Apart from the evidence, I have no means of deciding the speed of the two vehicles but I take judicial notice of the fact that a Bedford tipper which was on the Owode bridge could not have been driven at speed as the bridge is narrow and only a mad man would negotiate it at any speed.

I would not take seriously the evidence of Afolabi Lambo when he wrote on exhibit G that the accident was probably caused by the failure of the brakes of the omnibus.
In the first place he was not an eye witness, secondly, he is not expert nor did he give his evidence after a professional examination of the wrecked lorry. In other words he only gave his own view or opinion which he was not competent to give as he was called before me only as a witness of fact.

I consider that on the facts before me and on the evidence as a whole I would find that the defendants’ bus being driven by their driver Mathew Ekhator in the course of his employment, was negligently driven by the driver and collided with the plaintiff’s lorry thereby resulting in a complete wreck of the plaintiff’s Bedford tipper.”

Mr Sofola for the appellants first argued his ground of appeal which read:
“(1) the learned trial judge erred in law and in fact in holding that the defendants’ omnibus left its side of the road to go across the crown of the road to meet the plaintiff’s tipper lorry and/or that the defendant’s omnibus had left its side of the road and had careered to the wrong side of the road when the sketch tendered by the plaintiff as exhibit J showed that the point of impact indicated that the plaintiff’s tipper lorry occupied 16 feet out of the 28 foot long (sic) road.”

He submitted that the learned trial judge wrongly interpreted the sketch plan (exhibit J) produced by the 6th P. W. who was a police constable who went to the scene of the accident, as it did not show, as stated by the learned trial judge earlier in his judgment that “the point of impact was 14 feet from the left side of the road facing Lagos,” but that it showed the point of impact was 14 feet away from the Owode bridge over which the plaintiff’s tipper had just driven and that according to the sketch plan the road was 28 feet wide there and the tipper took up 16 feet of it.

In Mr Sofola’s submission the statement by the learned trial judge that-“this indicates that the omnibus had left its side of the road to go across the crown of the road onto meet the Bedford tipper which was on its own left side of road” was not a correct interpretation of the sketch plan and the learned trial judge wrongly therefore rule on the plan when he later in his judgement said “I would prefer to accept the evidence of the police officer as shown in the sketch of the accident (exhibit J). This proves that the omnibus had left its side of the road and had careered to the wrong side of the road before the collision.”

He submitted that apart from that finding the learned trial judge made no finding as to specific acts of negligence but solely made a general finding that the defendants’ bus was being negligently driven. He submitted that the learned trial judge did not deal with any other specific acts of negligence alleged in the statement of claim to which we have referred or made findings on them and that accordingly the plaintiff should not have succeeded on her claim. However, in view of the fact that the learned trial judge had not evaluated the evidence Mr Sofola asked us to send the case back for rehearing.

Mr. Lambo for the respondent for his part eventually conceded that the learned trial judge did not make findings of fact other than that with regard to the sketch plan, but he asked us to make findings of fact from the evidence as shown on the record.
We must first of all indicate that the evidential value of exhibit J. the sketch plan, was very limited. The plan was not agreed by the parties and could only therefore be produced by the witness to support his evidence of what he actually saw at the spot and had recorded at the time.

In his own evidence the police constable the (6th P. W.) said under cross-examination ” the people in the bus showed me the point of impact. I do not know their names and they did not sign the sketch” and though under re-examination he said-“I can identify anyone on the bus who spoke to me if I see him” and the judge then recorded “witness identifies one John Ogunleye called from witness room” this did not establish that John Ogunleye was one of those who specifically showed him the point of impact. John Ogunleye who was the 8th P.W. was never asked any question about showing the 6th P.W. the point of impact and it was not shown that the persons who informed the 6th P.W. of where the point of impact was could not be found and called as witnesses so that the plan could not be admitted as a whole by virtue of the provisions of section 90 of the Evidence Act as it could have been if in respect of such a witness he could have been shown to fall within an exception in the proviso of section 90(1)(b) that reads

“Provided that the condition that the maker of the statement shall be called as a witness need not be satisfied if he is dead, or unfit by reason of his bodily or mental condition to attend as a witness, or if he is beyond the seas and it is not reasonably practicable to secure his attendance, or if all reasonable efforts to find him have been made without success.”

(Compare Simpson v. Lever [1962] 3 W.L.R. 1374 where an unsigned statement by a witness to an accident which was recorded by a policeman was admitted, when it was established that the maker could not be found, in evidence under section 1(1) of the Evidence Act, 1938 which is the exactly equivalent provision in England to section 90 of our Evidence Act.) The point shown on the plan as the point of impact not being within the personal knowledge of the policeman (6th P.W.) and not being admissible by virtue of section 90 of the Evidence Act was therefore inadmissible, being hearsay evidence. The measurements on the sketch plan made by the 6th P.W. of what he himself saw and found were admissible, such as for instance that the width of the road was 28 feet at the approach to the Owode bridge, but the point marked as the point of impact on which the learned trial judge relied was not admissible.

The learned trial judge never made any finding as to which witnesses he believed and it is not the practice of this Court to put ourselves in his place and make a determination which he should have made as we were asked to do by Mr. Lambo.

As a court of appeal we are reluctant in regard to evidence adduced in the lower court to determine other than whether the trial judge rightly evaluated or drew a proper inference from evidence which he found proved (compare Benmax v. Austin Motor Co. Ltd. [1955] 1 All E.R. 326 and Akinola v. Oluwo [1962] 1 All N.L.R. 244), because for us to determine whether a particular witness’s evidence is to be believed, when there is no finding by the learned trial judge, would be to do so without having had the opportunity to see the witness and to determine thereafter whether or not he appears to be a witness of truth. As the learned trial judge made no proper findings of fact and wrongly, in our view, relied on matters in the sketch plans which were in fact inadmissible we have no alternative but to order that this case be re-heard.

Mr Sofola also argued extensively before us that the learned trial judge, having found negligence established, made a wrong assessment of damages. As we have indicated that the case must go back for re-hearing we do not wish to prejudice that re-hearing by expressing our views on the way he dealt with the evidence adduced before him as to damages, save to reiterate the principle of law which this Court has laid down many times before that in a case such as this the plaintiff is entitled as to damages to what is called restitutio in integrum which means, as Lord Wright in Liesboch, Dredger, Dredger v. Edison [1933] A.C. 449 at page 459 said
“that they should recover such a sum as will replace them, so far as can be done by compensation in money, in the same position as if the loss had not been inflicted on them, subject to the rules of law as to remoteness of damage.”

Normally where the vehicle is a total loss “or write-off’ the plaintiff is entitled as damages only to the pre-accident market value of the vehicle less the value of the vehicle as scrap (if any) plus damages for loss of earnings apart from any specific items of special damage proved. We would draw attention to the cases of Ubani-Ukoma v. Nicol [1962] 1 All N.L.R. 105 and Kerewi v. Odegbesan [1965] 1 All N.L.R. 95, which have dealt with problems of this nature.

The appeal is accordingly allowed and the judgement of the late Omololu, J. including his order as to costs in suit LD/33/66 is set aside and it is ordered that the matter be re-heard before a judge of the Lagos High Court.

Costs in the High Court shall abide the outcome of the re-hearing but the appellants are entitled to their costs of this appeal which we assess at 62 guineas.


SC.10/1968

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