Tobago contractor sues for millions over seized excavator

Damola Charles's excavator which was seized in 2018.
Damola Charles's excavator which was seized in 2018.

A TOBAGO contractor has sued the State for millions for his excavator, which was seized by the Defence Force in 2018 and never returned until ordered by a High Court judge last week.

Damola Charles, of Argyle is the owner of Refined Trade and Logistics and the excavator, which was seized by the Defence Force around November 3, 2018, from Block 3, Wallerfield, where it was stored. He sued the State for the unlawful seizure and detention of the heavy machinery.

Justice Devindra Rampersad found the State liable and ordered the return of the excavator.

An assessment of damages has been adjourned to May 19, pending settlement discussions.

In addition to $2,500 a day from November 3, 2018, to February 3, 2023, Charles is also seeking aggravated damages for the stress he suffered in trying to find his equipment and exemplary damages, since the excavator is in a state of disrepair, having been left exposed by the elements at the Defence Force’s first engineering battalion camp at the Cumuto Barracks.

In his lawsuit, Charles said after the excavator was seized, he reported it stolen to the police and returned countless times to get information, as he was told there were no ongoing investigations into its disappearance.

Since 2018, he had been trying, unsuccessfully, to get it back, the lawsuit said.

It also said because of the detention of the machinery, he suffered stress, embarrassment, humiliation, inconvenience, and substantial loss of earnings.

Charles provided copies of contracts he had with the Tobago House of Assembly and other private businesses on the island to support his claim that he suffered financial distress over the years the excavator was detained.

“At the time that the excavator was seized, the construction industry in Trinidad and Tobago was booming and there was a huge demand for such equipment.

“As such, due to the defendant’s wrongful detention of the excavator, the claimant was unable to benefit from this demand and his financial growth was therefore negatively impacted.”

In its defence, the State claimed police seized the excavator as part of investigations into illegal quarrying. However, it denied the Defence Force had taken it, since, it said, that agency did not have such authority.

The State’s defence said the regiment would only lend support to transport such equipment to the police’s special evidence unit (SERU) at Camp Cumuto for safekeeping.

It also claimed there were no records of the seizure of Charles’s excavator, and of the six stored at Camp Cumuto, none matched the serial number he provided.

“The records of SERU reflect that there is no record and/or entry relative to the excavator in question.”

However, Charles’s excavator was eventually found at Camp Cumuto.

In a reply to the State’s defence, Charles's legal team said its client had continually monitored the excavator over the years to ensure it was never moved. He also provided a photo of the machinery at the army’s base.

Charles is represented by attorneys Joel Roper, Shervon Noreiga and Gerard Boodram. Hillary Muddeen of the Chief State Solicitor’s department and Sanjiv Sookoo of the Solicitor General’s department represented the State in the proceedings.


"Tobago contractor sues for millions over seized excavator"

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