Five years after Justice Ibrahim Buba of the Federal High Court, Lagos, dismissed a suit filed by a Nigerian engineer, Mr. Chidi Adabanya, against Air France over alleged breach of contract and racial discrimination, the Court of Appeal has upturned the verdict.
The three-man panel of Justices Yagarta Nimpar, Ugochukwu Ogakwu and Abimbola Adejumo, also ordered the airline to refund N176,768 being the amount wrongly extracted from the applicant in breach of the contract of carriage by air.
The appellate court awarded 10 percent interest on the said sum from the date of judgment until it is fully refunded to the appellant. It also awarded N300,000 cost in favour of the appellant.
In 2003, Adabanya due to experience with airline on his trip to London and France, slammed N192 million suit on Air France, claiming that the airline maltreated him on the basis of his being a Nigerian, which the respondent denied. He alleged that the airline’s officials told him in Paris that he could not carry two pieces of luggage, which he was entitled to, because the provision was “not for Africans.”
He, therefore, urged Justice Buba to order the respondent to pay him 1.5million Euros (about 192million) as damages. He also prayed for a refund of 1,381 Euros (or its equivalent of N176,768), which he paid to the respondent for purported excess luggage.
Adabanya also wanted Air France to bear the cost of the court action and pay interest at 30 per cent on the damages when it is awarded; from the day judgment is delivered until the sum is fully paid.
In the appellant’s statement on oath in support of his suit at the lower court, he averred that he bought an Air France ticket through an agent in Warri, Delta State, sometime in May 2003 for himself, his wife and two daughters to travel to Paris, France.
Their journey, he said, was routed as Lagos, Paris, London, Paris, Lagos. He said it was stated in the ticket that he was entitled to two pieces of luggage between London to Paris and from Paris to Lagos. He said based on “standard practice on international routes”, each passenger was entitled to two pieces of luggage of not more than a total weight of 64 kilogrammes, each not to weigh more than 32 kilogrammes.
The plaintiff said he left his family in London and went to Paris via Air France flight AF1471, from where he would return to Lagos. On his way to Lagos, he said he packed two pieces of luggage, which did not exceed 32 kilogrammes, but when he got to the Charles de Gaulle Airport, Paris, on May 30, 2003, he was told that he had excess luggage.
He said the airline official insisted he must pay for the “extra” luggage as he was only entitled to travel with one piece of luggage not exceeding 23 kilogrammes.
He said he referred the official to his ticket, which indicated that he was entitled to two pieces of luggage but another official of the airline, told him that “two pieces of luggage were not for Africans.” He said he was asked to either pay the money “or send the excess luggage for destruction,” and that if he made any more trouble he would be “stopped from travelling with the flight.”
He said he reminded the airline officials that they were discriminating against him for being an African, but they allegedly ignored his threats to sue, telling him “that was his problem.”
The plaintiff said the treatment greatly injured his pride and left him “emotionally and psychologically traumatised,” as he was told in clear terms: “As an African, he was clearly sub-human and not entitled to the same treatment given other members of the international community.”
But Air France in its counter affidavit denied Adabanya’s claims, saying his journey from London to Paris where he spent five days before leaving for Lagos could not be termed “a continuous journey”, but two separate journeys. It said none of its workers assaulted or insulted Adabanya at the airport: “It is incumbent on the plaintiff to identify by name those members of staff that allegedly insulted him.
“The plaintiff’s claim is frivolous, vexatious, gold digging and an abuse of court process and should be dismissed with punitive costs against the plaintiff.”
Justice Buba on June 28, 2013, dismissed the claims of the appellant on the ground that it lacked merit. Dissatisfied, Adabanya approached the appellate court to upturn the vedict and grant all the reliefs sought.
In the appeal, the appellant want the court to determine whether the trial court was right in holding that their was no evidence in proof of his alleged breach of contract against the respondent.
Whether the trial court was right not to have granted the appellant’s claims against the respondent as contained in the writ of summons and statement of claim
Delivering judgment, the three-man panel led held that it was uncontested that there was a contract of carriage by air between the parties and the contract reflected in the exhibit before the court:
“It is trite that both parties and the court are bound by the term of contract which is commonly known and referred to as sanctity of contract. I agree with the appellant that the exhibits tendered justify his claims. The contention of the respondent that contract terms change is not tenable because the respondent failed to prove the new terms and conditions the parties entered into.
“Terms of contract are not settled on assumption, they are express and as agreed and understood by both parties. I have a problem with the manner the trial court arrived at its finding. It failed to evaluate relevant evidence and also did not do the needful before arriving at it decision.
“Consequently, I find for the appellant in terms of claim for the refund the sum of N176,768, being the amount wrongly extracted from the applicant in breach of the contract of carriage by air. I award 10 percent interest on the said sum from the date of judgment until it is fully refunded to the appellant
“The appeal is meritorious and succeeds. The judgment of the trial court is set aside. Cost of N300,000 award in favour of the appellant against the respondent.”