CASE OF THE WEEK:
HARKA AIR SERVICES (NIG) LIMITED V EMEKA KEAZOR,ESQ(2011)13NWLR PT 1264 @ 320-364
- What aviation accident means
- What constitutes misconduct on the part of an airline
- Circumstances when liability of an airline may arise
FACTS OF THE CASE
Mr Emeka Keazor was a passenger on board Harka Air Services on a flight from Kaduna to Lagos. At the point of boarding, there was a report of bad weather which made other commercial airlines cancel all their flights and there was none operating two hours before the aircraft took off. Airborne, the flight to Lagos was turbulent. On reaching the landing threshold at Lagos airport, the pilot was not given clearance to land because the craft was above normal and regular height while landing, aircraft’s pilot did not also respond to the Lagos air traffic controller on whether he was landing or carrying out a missed approach. When the aircraft eventually hit the runway, it had passed more than 60% of the entire runway, which made it impossible for it to make a safe landing. The aircraft therefore crash landed.
Mr Emeka Keazor had a traumatic experience as the result of the crash landing; he lost his hand luggage and personal items, suffered serious injuries and body pains, and was admitted in the hospital where he sought medical treatment. The injuries he sustained curtailed his day to day activities.
Consequently, he suffered loss professionally and financially. Aggrieved, he brought an action against the air service company claiming the sum of $5,000,000(Five Million USD) as general and special damages.
The trial court ruled in the favor of Mr. Emeka Keazor and awarded damages to him. Not satisfied with the trial court’s judgment, Harka air services appealed to the court of appeal but the court of appeal agreed with the judgment of the trial court. Harka air services further appealed to the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court in analyzing the issue stated as follows:
- What aviation accident means: An aviation accident is an occurrence associated with the operation of an aircraft, which takes place between the time any person boards the aircraft with the intention of flying until such time as all such persons have disembarked, in which a person suffers a fatal or serious injury as a result of being in the craft.
- What constitutes misconduct on the part of an airline: Airline misconduct was defined as a deliberate wrongful act by a pilot, airline staff or its agents which gives rise to a claim for damages by passengers. To be guilty of misconduct, the person concerned must appreciate that he is acting wrongfully and yet persists in so acting regardless of the consequences, or acts with reckless indifference as to what the result maybe.
- Circumstances when liability of an airline may arise: An airline’s liability to its passengers or customers could arise as a result of an injury sustained on board an aircraft or death arising from the course of a journey or damage to or loss of goods or delay or denied boarding or interactions in the course of preparing for or the actual conduct of flight operations.
The Supreme Court in affirming the decisions of the lower courts found that there was willful misconduct on the part of the airline service company because its pilot embarked on a very risky venture and acted with reckless indifference as to what the result may be. The Supreme Court awarded Mr. Emeka Keazor the sum of $11,000 (Eleven Thousand USD) as general damages.
Yvonne Dozie (Pro-Bono Partner)