EGBEDI VS. THE REGISTERED TRUSTEES OF THE CHAPEL OF LIBERTY

A judgment was recently passed by the Honourable Justice Candide-Johnson in the case of Tamara Egbedi vs. The Registered Trustees of the Chapel of Liberty & Rev. Dr. Chris Kwakpovwe. The judgment is significant as it clarifies the duty of care owed by event holders to their invitees.

In this case, the Claimant attended a religious function at the National Stadium in Lagos State organized by the Defendants in 2010. The general invitation to attend the night vigil was issued by the Defendants through their monthly devotional booklet which is widely sold in Nigeria and other countries. The Claimant arrived at the function at about 9pm only to find the hall was filled up. She and her relatives who attended the function with her decided to seek available seats amongst the chairs provided by the Defendants for the overflow outside the hall. In the course of their search for seats outside the hall, the Claimant fell headlong into an uncovered concrete gutter, sustaining serious injuries that required numerous medical procedures, treatments, dental implants and therapy.

When the Claimant’s lawyers demanded compensation from the Defendants, their lawyers denied any liability, even going as far as saying the Claimant’s claim was a “gold digging venture” and dared her to go to court.

The major issue of contention in the case before the Honourable Candide-Johnson was whether the Defendants owed the Claimant a duty of care when she attended the night vigil and, if so, whether there was negligence on the part of the Defendants that led to the Claimant getting injured.

Some of the points raised by the Claimant’s lawyers as the basis upon which they sought judgment in their favour were:

  1. The Defendants were occupiers of the premises where the Claimant sustained her injuries.
  2. The Claimant was an invitee/visitor to the premises where she was injured.
  3. The Defendants, who, as Occupiers, owed the Claimant the duty of care to keep her safe while within the premises, breached this duty and caused her damages.
  4. The Defendants failed the “Reasonable Man Test” used in determining breach of duty of care.
  5. The Claimant suffered severe injuries as a result of the Defendants negligent conduct thus entitling her to damages.

The Defendants argued that the invitation to the function “was an invitation to the whole world” and not specifically to the Claimant so as to convey a duty of care owed to the Claimant on the organizers. The court dismissed this argument as not being the position of the Law of Tort and the doctrine of duty of care.

The Defendants further argued that such duty of care rests squarely on the National Sports Commission (NSC) who they rented the venue from and who are the managers/owners of the National Stadium where the event and accident took place. The Honourable Justice dismissed this argument on the grounds that although it was the NSC that rented the space to the Defendants, it was the Defendants who structured, arranged and independently organized their event to their own tastes and standards. He pointed out that in the NSC letter provided as evidence, the NSC approved the Defendants’ request for the use of open space as the Defendants own event venue from 8pm till dawn. The letter directed the Defendants to liaise with the NCS’s officer “to arrange for the clearing of the venue and other logistics to ensure a hitch free programme”. The judge stated that there was no evidence of any arrangements undertaken by the Defendants regarding logistics calculated to ensure the safety and welfare of the Claimant and other invited guests.

The Claimant alleged negligence against the Defendants for leaving the overflow area outside the hall unlit and not placing signs or ushers in the area leading to the Claimants injuries. Negligence was defined to be “the omission to do something which a reasonable man, guided upon considerations which ordinarily regulate the conduct of human affairs would do or doing something which a prudent and reasonable man would not do”. It was the judge’s opinion that the Defendant omitted to take the proper precautionary steps to safeguard the attendees from harm and were therefore negligent in their duty.

In response to the Defendants’ argument that it was the NSC that owed a duty of care, the Claimant’s lawyers cited authorities on the Principle of Occupiers Liability. Occupiers Liability is founded on occupational control i.e. “a control associated with and arising from the use of or activity in a premises and that an occupier is a person having sufficient degree of control over premises as to place him under a duty of care towards those persons who lawfully come into the premises in circumstances where the occupier ought to realize that a failure on his part to use care may result in injury to a person coming unto the premises”. In essence, it means that anyone who is in possession or control of a premises is under a duty of care to make sure the premises is sufficiently safe for any visitor to the premises or anyone who has a lawful right to be on the premises.

The court agreed that Defendants fell under the definition of “occupiers” and the Claimant was a “visitor” or “invitee” thus, under the Principle of Occupiers Liability, the Defendants owed the Claimant a duty of care which they breached leading the Claimant to be grievously injured. Based on the testimony and all the evidence presented by both parties, the court entered judgment in favour of the Claimant awarding her damages against the Defendants.

It is an unfortunate trend in Nigeria that a lot of people who rent halls, spaces or general premises for functions or activities do not believe they are responsible for the safety and welfare of their guests. The mindset is usually that it is the owner of the premises who rented the space to them that should be responsible for any misfortune that occurs on the premises.

This judgment will, hopefully, enlighten the public to the concept and principle of occupier’s liability and the duty of care owed by event holders to their visitors or invitees to make sure the premise is as safe as reasonably possible.