Western Nigeria Development Corporation V Jimoh Abimbola (1966) LLJR-SC

Western Nigeria Development Corporation V Jimoh Abimbola (1966)

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AJEGBO, J.S.C. 

This is an appeal by the defendant, the Western Nigeria Development Corporation (hereafter referred to as “the Corporation”), against the judgment of Somolu, J., in the Ibadan High Court awarding £2,650-10s damages and 200 guineas costs against the Corporation for wrongful dismissal of the plaintiff from his employment.

The plaintiff claimed £5,000 damages comprising £90-15s as special damages and £4,909-5s general damages. According to the writ the special damages represent “50 per cent of a month’s salary for three months at £60-10s a month during the period of purported suspension.” It is not in dispute that the plaintiff was a Foreman Grade I in the service of the Corporation and was on a salary of £726 per annum at the time of his dismissal.

The reason given by the Corporation for the dismissal was that a lorry was fraudulently removed from its workshop and that the plaintiff was privy to the fraudulent act. Relying also on the fact that the plaintiff had been queried and warned a number of times for misconduct it said that the appointment was justifiably terminated under the contract of service.

After reviewing the evidence led on both sides the learned trial judge came to the conclusion, rightly in our view, that the plaintiff was wrongfully dismissed and awarded damages as stated above. The judgment has been attacked mainly on the ground that the damages and costs awarded to the plaintiff were excessive.

The sum of £2,500 awarded as “general damages” amounted to over three years’ salary.

In his judgment the learned judge prefaced the award of damages with the following words:-

“The plaintiff was suspended in November on half-pay and I think he is entitled to receive back his half-pay arrears for November and December 1963 and full pay for January 1964, but he told the court that he has been paid the arrears for November and December 1963. Therefore he is entitled to his full pay arrears for January 1964 which amounted to £60-10s. As to general damages, it has been laid down in the authorities that the court has to assess it as best as it can, and that it may take certain things into consideration, as for example the prospects of continued employment lost to the dismissed employee, his prospects for obtaining early employment and even the deprivation of any chance of winning a prize, if he belongs to a limited class of competitors.”

The only authority referred to by the judge was Chaplin v. Hicks [1911] 2 K.B. 786, which was not concerned with a contract of employment and is no guide to the assessment of damages for the wrongful termination of such a contract. With respect, we must say that the authorities do not support the learned judge in the matters he took into consideration in assessing damages.

Lord Loreburn, in his speech in Addis v. Gramophone Company Ltd. [1909] A.C. 488 at page 491, said:-

“If there be a dismissal without notice the employer must pay an indemnity; but that indemnity cannot include compensation either for the injured feelings of the servant, or for the loss he may sustain from the fact that his having been dismissed of itself makes it more difficult for him to obtain fresh employment.”

The measure of damages for wrongful dismissal is, prima facie, the amount the plaintiff would have earned had he continued with the employment. Where the defendant has a right to terminate the contract before the end of the term, damages should only be awarded to the end of the earliest period at which the defendant could have so terminated the contract: see Mayne & McGregor on Damages, 12th edition, paragraphs 608-610.

The plaintiff was given a letter of appointment (Exhibit H) and paragraph 5 of that letter reads as follows:

“Your employment may be terminated by the Board or yourself by giving one month’s notice in writing or by paying one month’s salary in lieu of such notice excepting in the case of dismissal for an offence prejudicial to the interest of the Board.”

The plaintiffs appointment was governed by the contract into which he entered at the time of his appointment. If he had been given one month’s notice before the termination of his appointment he would have had no claim whatever on the Corporation. But he was not given notice and he is entitled to one month’s salary in the absence of notice. That is all he can get as damages; other matters that the, judge considered are irrelevant.

The appeal is allowed. The judgment of the court below is set aside and a sum of £60-1 Os is awarded as damages. The costs of the trial awarded to the respondent are reduced from 200 guineas to 30 guineas and the appellant is awarded costs of the appeal assessed at 30 guineas.


Other Citation: (1966) LCN/1320(SC)

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