The Sierra Leone Development Co. Ltd V. Maria Taylor (1952)
LawGlobal Hub Judgment Report – West African Court of Appeal
Appeals in civil cases—Judgment based on views of Judge without evidence from witnesses.
The case arose out of the death of a locomotive driver in the service of the appellants; it was brought by the administratrix of his estate claiming damages for negligence imputed to the Company or theirservants: (there was also an action for the benefit of the children, to abide by the decision on the other).
There was a siding and at the end of it, 23 ft. from the rail catch point, a cross bar. The length of the engine was 9 ft. 10 in., and the engine could have been stopped just clear of the points and some distance short of the cross-bar.
In this instance, it ran on at a speed sufficient to get jammed under the cross-bar; the brakes were off and probably the engine was out of gear. The locomotive was going with the driver’s seat towards the cross-bar; it was an open seat on an open platform; and he had a clear view and might have jumped off if attentive.
The trial Judge was satisfied that the principal cause of the accident was the deceased’s lack of care in not keeping a proper look-out and applying his brakes in time, and that the cross-bar was not in itself dangerous and did not need to be fenced (as alleged in the statement of claim).
But he went on to consider whether the distance provided between the catch points and the cross-bar was reasonably adequate for stopping beyond the points in safety before colliding with the cross-bar.
That distance he thought was ample for a European or equally alert African driver but, speaking from his own knowledge of Africans, he was certain it was not safe for the average African driver, whose appreciation of a situation and reaction was slower. Damages were awarded, and the Company appealed.
It was plain from the evidence that the accident was due to the deceased’s own negligence, and the trial Judge having so found, erred in law in applying his personal judgment and experience and basing his decision on what was not evidence in the case.