An insurance company has been ordered to pay $1 million in compensation to the relatives of one of five people killed in an accident at the popular Palance Bar in El Dorado, Tunapuna, on Labour Day 2012.
Delivering a 21-page judgement, earlier this week, Justice Joan Charles ordered Maritime General Insurance Company Limited to pay the compensation to the estate of Harrylal Mongroo, formerly of Five Rivers, Arouca, as it had insured the vehicle responsible for the accident.
In deciding the case, Charles had to determine who should be held liable to pay compensation over the electrician’s death, as the registered owner of the vehicle, Anthony Victor, claimed he sold it to his neighbour Darrell Nicholls, who in turn lent it to Ken Gomez, who was driving the vehicle at the time of the accident.
In the lawsuit, Mongroo’s relatives contended that if Gomez did not have expressed or implied permission to use the vehicle from either Victor or Nicholls, then Victor was negligent, as he failed to take steps to transfer the vehicle and allowed Nicholls to continue using his insurance policy with the company, which was valid at the time of the accident.
In defence of the case, Victor claimed when he agreed to sell the vehicle to Nicholls for $50,000 via $1,500 monthly instalments, he did not know he (Nicholls) would use it for hire or lend it to a third party.
Victor claimed he had informed the company of the sale agreement and was advised that Nicholls could use the policy until it expired and he turned 25.
Nicholls claimed he had exclusive use of the vehicle after making the first payment and was not restricted from authorising someone else to use it.
In its defence of the claim, the company denied any liability, as it claimed Victor improperly sold the car without its approval. It also claimed the insurance policy was voided by the fact that Nicholls used it for hire while it was insured for pleasure.
Central to the case was the evidence of Donna Diaz, a former financial advisor with the company who dealt with Victor’s policy.
Diaz claimed that when Victor approached her about the possibility of transferring the insurance policy to Nicholls, he (Victor) admitted the sale was not complete as Nicholls had not paid the full purchase sum.
She claimed it was only after the accident that Victor produced documents alleging the final payment was made and the vehicle was transferred.
In her judgement, Charles noted there were glaring inconsistencies with Victor’s witness statement and testimony.
Charles stated that Victor’s statements were designed for him to escape liability and noted that Diaz could not respond to the serious allegations, as she fell ill while testifying and was excused.
Having found his evidence over the sale of the vehicle to be untrue, Charles ruled his claim Gomez was not driving the vehicle with his consent was also unreliable.
“It is clear from the evidence that Mr Victor knew Nicholls and Gomez—they lived in his neighbourhood and he enjoyed a close relationship in particular with Nicholls,” Charles said, as she noted Victor had not told police Gomez was not authorised when they questioned him after the accident.
“I note that the question as to whether the driver was authorised to drive the vehicle by the insured was left blank on the motor accident report, which Maritime relied on,” she said, as she pointed out the form also contained Gomez’s personal information.
Based on her findings on the evidence, Charles ruled Gomez was driving the vehicle with Victor’s permission and Maritime was liable to pay.
In assessing the compensation for Mongroo’s family, Charles calculated his loss of expectation of life and loss of earnings.
As the figure slightly exceeded the $1 million maximum under the Motor Vehicle Insurance Third Party Risks Act, Maritime was ordered to pay it (the maximum).
The accident occurred around 5.30 am on June 19, 2012, as the car driven by Gomez ploughed into the bar located along the Eastern Main Road at Caura Junction. Mongroo; Shayaz Khan, 25, of Frederick Settlement, Caroni; Khan’s 51-year-old mother Christine; Arun Ajay, of El Dorado; and Shiva Bharath, of St Joseph, who were all liming at the bar, were killed. Five others were injured.
Bharath’s family has filed a similar lawsuit to Mongroo’s, which is yet to be determined.