A High Court of Anambra State presided over by Hon. Justice Okuma, has ruled that the act of Corporate Institutions, especially, Hospitals locking up their customers/clients from exiting their premises on the guise that they must complete payment amounts to false imprisonment.
This reasoning was given in the recently decided case of Mrs. Ngozi Osegbo, Mr. Chinonso Osegbo and The Registered Trustees of the Synod of the Diocese on the Niger with Suit No: 0/255/2017.
The plaintiffs had taken their 11months old baby to Iyi Enu Mission Hospital for treatment, but died while undergoing treatment. The Hospital was said to have locked up the plaintiffs and insisted that they would not be allowed to leave the Hospital until all payments had been made. The Hospital thus detained the plaintiff for more than 10 hours despite every plea to allow them put themselves together and sought for fund.
The claimant therefore approached the court for the following reliefs to wit:
A declaration that the defendants owed the plaintiff’s child (Marvelous Osegbo) a duty of care, and they breached that duty which resulted in his death; A declaration that the action of the defendants’ security men in denying the plaintiffs egress from the defendants’ hospital and threat of grievous bodily harm with gun amounted to false imprisonment and assault and General damages in the sum of five hundred million naira and 35% interest per annum (or prevailing CBN interest rate) of the judgment sum from date of judgment until final liquidation of the judgment debt.
Delivering the judgment on the 12th June, 2018, after duly considering the arguments on the parties’ written addresses, the court held that the plaintiffs had proved their case.
Giving his verdict on the argument that the plaintiffs were held at gun point, the court held that upon examination of the evidence of PW1 and PW2, it is found that that their evidence in that respect which are consistent with their pleading and not contradictory were not challenged under cross examination by the defendants and therefore accepted by same.
The court also frowned at the manner upon which the said hospital bill was recovered, adding that the detention of the plaintiffs for 10 hours resulted to false imprisonment.
“The act of the defendants in detaining the 1st plaintiff for ten hours in the circumstance of this case no doubt constitutes acts of false imprisonment. I must deprecate the uncivil and indecent way and manner the defendants recovered the said hospital bill.
“It is not expected that the first defendant particularly will engage itself in such uncivil and illegal means of debt recovery. Much as this court recognizes the fear in disappearance of patients when it comes to payment of hospital bills or debts generally, I do not find it sufficient to justify illegality that two wrongs do not make a right,” the court said.
The court therefore awarded the sum of N500, 000 (Five Hundred Thousand Naira) against the Registered Trustees of the Synod of the Diocese on the Niger that owns Iyi Enu Mission Hospital together with 35% interest on the judgment sum until final liquidation of same, thus affirming the argument of C. J Okeke Esq (Principal Partner TRULAW CHAMBERS), counsel for the plaintiffs.
The judgment by the court has for sure created a landmark precedent on the tort law remedy of false imprisonment.