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Home » Articles » Jnr Pope’s Death: A Case of Negligence in Tort? –  Ikpenyi Michael

Jnr Pope’s Death: A Case of Negligence in Tort? –  Ikpenyi Michael

Jnr Pope’s Death

Jnr Pope’s Death : A Case of Negligence in Tort?

The Story

The 10th day of April, 2024, was a gloomy day for the Nollywood industry and in extension, Nigeria as a whole as nollywood actor, John Paul Odonwodo, popularly called Jnr Pope, and four others lost their lives when their boat capsized in the River Niger in Anambra State while they were on their way back from a location where they had gone to shoot a movie.

While the author of this work respects and honour the other persons who also lost their lives in the unfortunate event, he would for the sake of this work focus on Jnr Pope’s case.

Movie producer, Adanma Luke, in a video clip on her Instagram handle shared her own side of the story. In the video clip, Mrs Luke attributed the death of Jnr Pope to his refusal to use a life jacket during the boat trip. According to her, Jnr Pope did not take the life jacket on the ground that it was dirty.

Prior to the death incident, Pope was seen making a video where he was pleading with the boat rider that he was an only child who has three young children and that he wanted to raise them himself.

It was reported at some point that the movie star was alive.  He was allegedly taken to a native doctor, mortuary and eventually to the hospital where he was confirmed dead.

The question on the lips of so many Nigerians, especially the fans of the movie actor is “why were they not wearing life jackets?”

This work seeks to analyze whether a case of negligence in Tort can be made out of the unfortunate incident.

A cursory glance at Tort

According to Prof. Winfield, tortious liability arises from the breach of a duty primarily fixed by law; this duty is towards persons generally and its breach is redressible by an action for unliquidated damages. It is an act done by the defendant which causes injury to the plaintiff without just cause or excuse.

A cursory glance at the definition provided by Prof. Winfield would show that the following fundamentals make up a tort.

  1. Duty – For tortious liability to arise there must be an existence of duty and the breach of such duty.
  2. Tortious liability arises by operation of law. This means that it is fixed by law and there need not be any agreement between the parties.
  3. The duty is owed generally to all persons.
  4. A tort gives rise to a civil action for damage which could either be liquidated ( specific) damages or unliquidated (general) damages
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The law of Tort cuts across trespass, Nuisance, Defamation, Negligence,etc.

To make a case for Jnr Pope, one is most likely going to be coming under negligence.

The tort of negligence is one that has grown considerably in recent years. The concept of negligence owes its origin to the famous case of Donoghue v Stevenson [1932] and in particular the famous dictum of Lord Atkins, where he defined duty of care. For one to make a case under negligence such a person must establish three essential ingredients, vide;

  1. Duty of care
  2. Breach of duty
  3. Damage

Negligence is the omission to do something which a reasonable man, guided upon those considerations which ordinarily regulate the conduct of human affairs, would do, or doing something which a prudent and reasonable man would not have done[1].

It is the breach of legal duty of care owed by the defendant to the plaintiff, which results in damage. It consists of a failure to exercise due care in a case in which a duty to take care exists.[2]

The above definition shows that negligence is measured by the conduct of the defendant relative to that of a notional moral exemplar ‘the reasonable man’

So, at this point the question to be considered is whether or not a case of negligence can be established against Adanma Luke?

Can it be argued that ordinarily the producer of the movie ought to have provided life jackets for those on the boat?

But before that, there is a need to evaluate the type of relationship that exists between actors (in this instant case, Jnr Pope) and producers ( Adanma Luke)

Is it a contractual relationship e.g employment relationship or one generally established by law?

Tort is a breach of a duty imposed by law. Most times, the parties in Tort are previously unconnected which means there is often no privity of contract. Liability in tort is often based on fault or occurrence of damage.

In a contractual relationship, duties and liabilities are usually fixed by the parties subject to the provisions of the law. Unlike in tort, rights and duties are owed by a specific person,towards another specific person or persons.

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The relationship between actors and producers is such that it can be seen to be an employment relationship. The employment relationship is the legal link between employers and employees[3]. It exists when a person performs work or services under certain conditions in return for remuneration.

According to Section 91 of the Labour Act;  a contract of employment mean any agreement whether oral, or written, express or implied whereby one person agrees to employ another as a worker and that other person agrees to serve the employer as a worker.

Certain reciprocal rights and obligations are created between the employee and the employer in an employment relationship.

Employment relationships are governed by labour law, constitution, Employee Compensation Act, etc in Nigeria.

The law places a responsibility on the employer to provide good working conditions for their employees, this ranges from a healthy and safe environment, and provisions of safety equipment, etc. To further ensure that such responsibility is met, it provides remedies enforceable against the employer for certain injuries or diseases sustained during employment and at the workplace.

According to Section 17 (3) (c) of the constitution; the health, safety and welfare of all persons in employment are safeguarded and not endangered or abused.

The Constitution charges the government to ensure the enforcement of the above section through policies.

The basis of the liability of an employer for negligence in respect of injury suffered by his employee during the course of the employee’s work is two-fold, namely:

  1. Liability for the breach of his personal duty of care which he owes to each employee
  2. He may be vicariously liable for breach by one employee of the duty of care that employee owes his fellow employees.

Ab employer is expected to take the necessary steps to provide adequate equipment for his workers, and he will be liable to any worker who suffers injury as a result of absence of any equipment which is obviously necessary for the safety of the workman.[4]

It is therefore no gainsaying that Jnr Pope ought to have been provided with lifejacket considering how risky their adventure was.  The producer was under duty to ensure the safety and welfare of all the actors, actresses, and crews who were working with her.

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However, assuming that Adanma Luke’s story about Jnr Pope refusing the lifejacket that was offered to him was true, one would be tempted to argue or try to make out a case of contributory negligence in defence of the movie producer.

Contributory negligence is negligence of the plaintiff (injured party) which combines with the defendant’s negligence in bringing about the injury to the plaintiff.

In the very words of Lord Dennings[5] “a person is guilty of contributory negligence if he ought reasonably to have foreseen that, if he did not act as a reasonable, prudent man, he might be hurt himself…”

Contributory negligence is the failure of the injured person to take reasonable care of himself in his own interest.

Also, the refusal of the lifejacket can also be looked upon as one that brings Jnr Pope under the principle of “volenti non fit injuria “ which literally means “no injury to one who consents”. This means that a person cannot enforce a right that he has voluntarily waived or abandoned.

It is such that the injured person, expressly or impliedly, consent or agree , to exempt the defendant from the duty of care he would otherwise have owed.

Furthermore, one would also consider the following questions; how about the boat driver? Was he experienced enough? Was he the right hand?

The action of the driver could also bring about a case of vicarious liability.

In conclusion, while one might try to make out a case of negligence for the actor the producer is however not left without a defence as shown above.

[1] Alderson B in Blyth v Birmingham Waterworks Co. Ltd [1856]

[2]A.M.Co.(Nig.)Ltd.v.Volkswagen(Nig.)Ltd  [2010]7NWLR Part 1192


[4] Ross v. Associated Portland Cement Manufacturers Ltd [1964] 1 W.L R. 768

[5] Jones v. Livox Quarries Ltd [1952] 2 Q.B. 607 at p. 615

Image Credit: TheCable

About Author

Michael Ikpenyi is passionate law student with vigor and enthusiasm for the legal profession. He is an ardent reader, researcher and an exceptional writer. He has an unusual enthusiasm for human rights and social justice, litigation, academics, intellectual property, etc.

Ikpenyi Michael

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