A local insurance firm has been ordered to pay the judgment sum of $1 million as the insurers of a car which ploughed into a group of limers at a bar in El Dorado in 2012, killing five people and injuring at least five others.
In a written decision, Justice Joan Charles entered judgment against Ken Renaldo Gomez, the driver of the car; Anthony Victor, the car’s owner; and Maritime General Insurance.
Survival and dependency claims were brought against the three, as well as another man, Darrell Nicholls, who was said to have been sold the car by Victor, by the administrator of the Estate of Harrylal Mongroo, one of the five who were killed. The accident happened outside Palance Bar, on June 12, 2012.
Mongroo’s case was treated as a test case for all the other claim arising out of the accident.
Gomez was later charged with causing death by dangerous driving and his case is still before the courts.
He did not defend the claim before Charles, but Victor claimed he had sold the car to Nicholls before the accident.
Maritime argued that it was not liable, since the car had been sold and it had not been not informed of this.
In her decision, the judge noted that the insurance company’s case was driven by and largely dependent on Victor’s evidence, including his statement to police after the crash.
But the judge said Victor had been totally discredited “to the point where absolutely no reliance can be placed on his testimony.”
She said the two bits of evidence which formed the backbone of Maritime’s case that there was no insurable interest – the alleged receipts for the sale of the car from Victor to Nicholls, and the receipt from the Licensing Office as evidence of the transfer – caused her to reject them in its entirety.
“The outrageous lies on these two matters to which Mr Victor confessed have caused me to reject in its entirety his claim that: the car had been sold to the third defendant (Nicholls) prior to the accident; and the transfer had been effected at the Licensing Office.”
She also said Victor’s “brazen confession” that he conspired with a Maritime agent to produce false receipts led her to conclude that the acts were done so that he could avoid liability and deliberately deceive the court.
As she dissected the evidence, Charles also held that Victor’s evidence that Gomez was driving without his consent was also unreliable.
“It is clear from the evidence that Mr Victor knew both the third (Nicholls) and first (Gomez) defendants – they lived in his neighbourhood and he enjoyed a close relationship in particular with the third defendant,” she said.
She also pointed out that Victor, in his statement to the police, never said Gomez was not authorised to drive the car.
“The fact that he omitted to say so at this early opportunity led me to conclude that this too was a recent fabrication,” she said, also pointing out that Gomez lived 50 feet away from Victor, leading her to infer that he was an authorised driver.
“In the circumstances I hold that the first defendant drove the said vehicle with the permission/consent of the second defendant at the time of the accident.
"Accordingly, the fourth defendant, as insurer is liable to satisfy the judgment.”
She also pointed out that none of the defendants in the case were able to displace the principle that the mere occurrence of an accident was sufficient to imply negligence as advanced by Mongroo’s estate.
As she calculated the damages for loss of expectation of life, loss of earnings for lost years, special damages and pain and suffering, Charles considered that Mongroo was 30 at the time of his death, was a licensed electrician with HCL and was also contracted with Sagicor Ltd for general and electrical jobs.
She also added interest to the judgment sums from June 19, 2012, noting that while pre-assessment sums would ordinarily also attract interest, if she did that it would take the total claim to over $1 million. That is the maximum figure for which an insurer is liable under the Motor Vehicle Insurance Third Party Risks Act.
The dependency claim was also subsumed under the survival claim.
Mongroo’s estate was represented by attorneys Yaseen Ahmed, Chantelle Le Gall and Tara Lutchman, Kera Cuffie- Antrobus represented Victor and Ronnie Persad represented Maritime General.