The Ministry of Works and Transport has been found negligent in an incident where a pre-school teacher fell into an open manhole in Felicity in 2015.
Delivering an oral judgement after a short trial at the Hall of Justice in Port-of-Spain yesterday, High Court Judge Frank Seepersad ruled that the ministry was responsible for the incomplete drain although it was constructed by the Estate Management and Business Development Company (EMBD), without its approval.
In the claim before Seepersad, Surujdai Rampersad sued the ministry and the Chaguanas Borough Corporation after she fell into the hole while walking along the Chaguanas Main Road near to Cacandee Road on March 11, 2015.
While there was no dispute over whether Rampersad fell into the hole, both parties claimed that Rampersad was negligent when traversing the roadway at night.
The corporation and the Ministry were also contesting where Rampersad fell as the Ministry is vested with the statutory responsibility of maintaining the Chaguanas Main Road, while the corporation has control over Cacandee Road.
In analysing the evidence, Seepersad ruled that he believed Rampersad and her husband Mahadeo, whom both claimed that the incident occurred along the Chaguanas Main Road. He also stated that their claims, that the hole was not marked with caution signs and that it was difficult to see at night due to a lack of street lights in the area, were plausible.
Seepersad also noted that the corporation's officials, who covered the hole after the incident, had raised the issue with EMBD's work in the area. He also pointed out that the ministry's civil engineer Julia Joseph admitted to being aware of the EMBD's work while being cross-examined by Rampersad's lawyer.
However, Joseph could not give expert advice on the work as it was not conducted by her employer and was done before she worked in the Chaguanas area.
While Seepersad ordered compensation for Rampersad, he referred the issue of calculating it to a High Court Master.
In his judgement, Seepersad described the lack of coordination between the Ministry and the State-owned special purpose company as alarming.
He said: "It is unfathomable that an agency of the State, paid for by taxpayers, would be conducting roadwork without the supervision of the Ministry of Works."
Noting that the work was performed by the EMDB in the run-up to the 2015 general elections, Seepersad stated that politicians should not disregard public safety in their bid to secure votes.
"It is untenable that members of the public would be exposed to the risk of personal injury through the reckless nature of work conducted by the EMDB," Seepersad said.
EMDB is currently involved in a cartel claim against former Housing Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal, former EMBD CEO Gary Parmassar, former divisional managers Madhoo Balroop and Andrew Walker, and five contractors. The claim centres around 10 contracts for rehabilitation of roads in Caroni, which were granted to the contractors in 2015.
- by Derek Achong