Justice 13 years later
Man wins millions in damages for seized bus destroyed in fire at Transport Authority pound
The Transport Authority and its agents have come under judicial fire for “woeful dereliction” of duty for the more than five years they took to inform transport operator Marlon Parker where his minibus was being kept after it was seized in November...
The Transport Authority and its agents have come under judicial fire for “woeful dereliction” of duty for the more than five years they took to inform transport operator Marlon Parker where his minibus was being kept after it was seized in November 2009.
Supreme Court Judge Sonya Wint-Blair, in awarding damages last month in the sum of $4.6 million for loss of use from December 2012 to the date of the judgment, chided the authorities for the way in which Parker was treated.
Parker had claimed earnings from his minibus to be for five days each week at $7,500 daily.
Parker’s vehicle was also damaged by a fire in July 2012 at the Lakes Pen Pound in St Catherine where it was being kept and the salvage remains there. He was only informed where the vehicle was when the defendants stated in 2014 in their defence to the suit he filed that the vehicle was damaged in the fire.
The judge also ordered that Parker be paid $1.2 million as the replacement value of the vehicle with interest at three per cent per annum from December 2009 to the date of judgment. The court also awarded $18,000 in special damages for transportation costs to search for his vehicle. He was awarded interest at three per cent from March 28, 2013 to the date of judgment on that sum.
“When will they ever learn that a person’s motor vehicle is a part of his DNA, especially if the said vehicle is used as a commercial vehicle. When seized, it must be done in accordance with the law and returned in accordance with the law, failing which, there will always be litigation against those who choose to seize a person’s vehicle unlawfully,” said attorney-at-law Dr Garth Lyttle, who represented Parker.
The claimant proved on a balance of probability both elements of the torts of detinue and conversion, the judge added. She said in considering what should be the appropriate period for the award of interest, she took into account the fact that the defendants waited until the defence was filed (in 2014) to indicate where the vehicle was being kept.
Consideration was also given to the fact that the defendants took two years after the defence was filed to admit liability.
Parker, who was the owner of the Toyota Townace motor vehicle, said his driver was travelling along Hope Road in St Andrew when Inspector R.M. Hepburn seized the vehicle and charged the driver with operating a motor vehicle without a road licence and without insurance.
Parker went to court in December 2009, pleaded guilty and paid the fine. He went to the office of the Transport Authority on December 16, 2009 and advised that the fine was paid. He was told to go to 111 Maxfield Avenue, St Andrew, where minibuses were kept. He went to the location but the minibus was not there.
He was advised to go to the Lakes Pen Pound but when he went there in January 2010 his vehicle was not there. Parker then went to the Tivoli Gardens Pound, and the Industrial Terrace Pound but his vehicle was not found.
After receiving a call from the Transport Authority in April 2012 to pay wrecking fees and collect his vehicle, he subsequently made payment but still did not get his vehicle.
Parker then retained the services of Dr Lyttle, who wrote to the Transport Authority and when the response was not favourable, filed a claim in 2013 in the Supreme Court against the defendants, Inspector R.M. Hepburn and the Transport Authority.
The defendants contend that the vehicle was abandoned from November 2009 until July 2012 when there was a fire at the Lakes Pen Pound and Parker’s vehicle was damaged.
The Transport Authority accepted liability for the value of the vehicle but denied liability for special damages. The defendants stated that the vehicle was lawfully seized, therefore, the claimant was not entitled to possession as he had failed to pay the storage fees for the vehicle which he reasonably suspected was operating as a public passenger vehicle contrary to relevant road traffic enactments.
The judge found that the defendants presented no evidence to the court regarding the management or storage of Parker’s vehicle while it was in their custody. The judge said the claimant made it plain that he wanted to see his vehicle before he paid the storage fee.
Parker was not awarded wrecking fees because the judge found that the vehicle was lawfully seized and he was lawfully prosecuted for an offence under the Transport Authority Act.
‘WOEFUL DERELICTION OF DUTY’
“The Transport Authority does not deny or dispute the fact that this was a public passenger vehicle with a road licence. There must be records of road licences and none of these records were checked against the registration plate number and name of the claimant. The second defendant simply sat on its hands, all the while storage fees were mounting,” the judge noted.
The judge said she accepted the evidence of the claimant that he decided not to pay the storage fees until he saw his vehicle, as he had to know what state it was in before paying for it.
Parker was not aware until 2014 after the suit was filed that his vehicle was damaged in the fire at the pound at Lakes Pen.
The defendants had filed a counterclaim for $969,000 as set off against the value of the vehicle for storage fees but the claim was denied.
The judge commented that the claimant was sent from one place to another as the vehicle was not at any of the ones he was sent to.
“There was woeful dereliction of duty on the part of the agents of the second defendant. I find that this casual handling of the claimant’s demand, sending him hither, thither and yon without regard for his time or the expense of doing so tantamount to a denial of the return of the vehicle upon demand,” the judge remarked.
The judge found that there was no evidence of a system at the Transport Authority which was set up for those in the predicament of the claimant Parker.
Attorney-at-law Robert Clarke, instructed by the Director of State Proceedings, represented the defendants.
Legal officer for the Transport Authority Taj-Maria Osbourne also appeared in the case.