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Airport ramp attendant’s 22-year search for elusive justice

Friday, June 12, 1998 will remain imprinted in the mind of Jonathan Charo Suleiman, although he does not remember the events of the entire day.

At about 8.00 pm on that day while working at the Malindi International Airport in present day Kilifi County, Jonathan’s life changed permanently for the worst, and the now divorced father of nine children has been seeking justice to no avail.

Jonathan, who used to work as a Ramp Assistant with Air Kenya Aviation Limited had his head lacerated by a rotating aircraft propeller that left him badly scarred, not just on the slashed part of the head but also on several parts of his body, probably due to the effects of the drugs used to treat him.

On the fateful day, Jonathan woke up as usual and reported to work at the airport situated in Malindi town in present day Kilifi County only to wake up at the Aga Khan hospital in Mombasa two weeks later. When and how he got there, he can only recall stories narrated to him.

“I was on duty offloading an aircraft (Reg. 5YAAB) F27 when I was slashed on the head by a rotating propeller and sustained multiple frontal skull fractures, a large cut across my head and lost consciousness for two weeks,” he says.

He was rushed to the then Galana Hospital (Now Meridian Hospital) in Malindi town where he received First Aid before being taken by ambulance to the Aga Khan Hospital.

He stayed at the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit (ICU) for two weeks before being transferred to the general ward, where he stayed till July 13, 1998 when he was discharged. He credits his former employer for taking care of his medical bills, and for this he is grateful.

But the events that followed his healing and subsequent discharge from hospital are heartbreaking. First, he claims he was forced to return to work before he fully recovered.

When his compensation delayed and he started asking, his employer hurriedly prepared a claim of Sh140,400, which Jonathan claims he was forced to accept.

“I was called to the manager’s office where I was handed a declaration form and told to either sign it or go without any compensation,” he says adding, “I signed under duress. They took advantage of my confusion and desperate state at that time and coerced me to accept the compensation.

The declaration form read: “I Jonathan Suleiman, do hereby receive cheque number 001043 for Kshs140,400 being insurance claim in respect of accident on 12th June 1998. I agree that this is the final payment and declare that neither I nor any other party will ever make any other claim against Air Kenya Aviation Limited.”

It was signed on March 14, 2000 by Jonathan and witnessed by Mr. Joyce Kalama, who was at that time in charge of Air Kenya’s Malindi office.

Three years after receiving the compensation, Jonathan was laid off, ostensibly because he could not deliver services as he used before he was injured, and he was left with no source of income.

Jonathan’s quest for justice has been elusive for the last 22 years after being abandoned by two lawyers who represented him in his plaint for commensurate compensation.

He hired an advocate to represent him in a suit he filed against the employer for proper compensation claiming that the accident had left him permanently maimed, but the advocate abandoned the case and even lost all of Jonathan’s original documents.

Jonathan, who was then a promising young man now depends on family members and well-wishers to fend for himself and his children, as his wife left him when life became unbearable.

His quest for justice ran into headwinds after being abandoned by a lawyer who represented him at the Malindi Chief Magistrate’s court. The company was also placed under receivership as the case was going on, leading to another lawyer to stop continuing with the case.

In court documents carefully kept over the years, Jonathan sued his former employer accusing the company of failing to take all precautions to ensure all employees were working in a safe and secure environment.

He averred that the accident was occasioned to him due to negligence and/or carelessness of the company, its agents, servants and/or employee, factors he said held the defendant vicariously liable in negligence.

He said the company failed to take any adequate precaution for his life and exposed him to a risk of damages which the company knew or ought to have known.

Jonathan said his employer had also failed to provide him with any adequate supervision or any warning to the damages inherent in the said work and that it had failed to provide and maintain a safe system of working in the site.

He prayed that the court may grant him general and special damages as well as the cost of the suit plus interest on the same charged at court rates.

In its defense, the company appeared to deny that the accident took place and absolved itself from blame, saying if at all the accident occurred, it was wholly caused or substantially contributed by Jonathan’s own negligence.

“Without prejudice to the above, the defendant avers that if at all the accident occurred, which is denied, then the same was wholly caused or substantially contributed by the plaintiff’s negligence,” Mr. Eric K. Mutua, who represented Air Kenya, told the court.

Mutua said the plaintiff embarked on work without instructions or authority from the company, that he attempted to offload the luggage before the propeller came to a halt, carelessly lifted his head above the aircraft to reach the propeller and failed to follow laid down instructions on approaching aircraft whose propeller was on.

During the hearing of the case, Jonathan changed his first lawyer, who he alleged to have lost all the original documents.

He applied to represent himself in court but later hired another lawyer, who also abandoned the case after receiving information that Air Kenya Aviation limited had been placed under receivership.

During the last appearance before a Malindi court in 2009, Jonathan’s lawyer produced a letter from E. K Mutua and Co. Advocates dated September 2, 2009. The letter was signed by Mr. Eric K. Mutua and read in part:

“We have seen an invitation letter seeking to fix the above matter for hearing. Note that Air Kenya Aviation Limited was placed under receivership sometimes back (sic). We do not seem to have the pleadings in the said matter. Kindly let us have copies thereof.”

That was the last time the matter was heard in court, and Jonathan went back to the advocate’s office to take his file. He is now using the now tattered file to seek justice, if at all any well-wisher will come to his aid.

Jonathan still believes he did not get adequate compensation for the injuries he suffered and is appealing to human right groups, the Commission on Administration of Justice (The Ombudsman) and anyone who would be touched by his plight to assist him.

His elder brother, Garama Charo Suleiman, said Jonathan’s life had changed for the worse as he has to depend on family members and well-wishers to fend for himself and his nine children after Jonathan’s wife left for another man.

Jonathan can be reached on cellphone number 0748613631.

 

By Emmanuel Masha

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