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Appeals Court reduced judgment award in Mai v Arana

GeneralAppeals Court reduced judgment award in Mai v Arana

Photo: Julia Arana

The court found that the victim, Julia Arana, contributed to the accident which took her life. Damages against Jose Mai were reduced by 40%.

by Marco Lopez

BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Feb. 8, 2024

Today, the Court of Appeal handed down a written judgment reducing an award granted to the Estate of Julia Arana – in the claim brought against Minister Jose Mai for her death. In April 2016, the then-opposition representative Jose Mai collided with Julia Arana en route from Corozal to Orange Walk. Fifty-eight days later, she succumbed to the injuries she sustained as a result of the vehicle accident.

The case was heard in the Supreme Court by Justice Courtney Abel who found that Mai was liable for negligence and caused the death of Arana. Arana’s estate, represented by her son, renowned cyclist Edgar Nissani Arana, was initially awarded a total of $217,149.36 in damages. A total of $203,090.81 in general damages, and $14,058.55 in special damages. Mai appealed the sum as excessive, and the fact that his arguments of contributory negligence were rejected by the trial judge.

The accident occurred on a dark stretch of the Philip Goldson Highway in Trial Farm Village, where Arana lived. She was returning home from a visit to her son when, crossing the highway, she was hit by the upcoming vehicle driven by Mai. Evidence from the trial notes that the victim “may have been at or near the middle of the highway at the time of the collision at or about the median line.”

Attorneys representing Mai, Pricilla Banner and Julie-Ann Ellis Bradley, argued that this decision contributed to the injuries which led to her death.

The court found that the trial judge was right in finding that Mai was liable for negligence in the case, but erred in failing to identify the contributory negligence on the part of the deceased.

The judgment, written by Justice Minnet Hafiz Bertram outlines, “In my view, it was dangerous for Julia, an adult pedestrian, to cross the highway when there was an oncoming vehicle, and especially so at night on a poorly lit highway. She must have seen the vehicle which had lights, and should have foreseen that Mr. Mai would have overtaken the taxi parked partly on the highway. In my view, the trial judge erred in not finding that Julia crossed the road when it was unsafe for her to do so.”

This judgment was concurred by Chief Justice Louise Blenman and Justice Sandra Phillips.

The court concluded that the trial judge was not unreasonable “against the face of the evidence” to find Mai was negligent, but failed to find that Julia had contributed to the accident.

“She had to bear some responsibility for being near and at the middle of the highway,” the judgment stated.

However, since Justice Abel failed to make a finding on the element of contributory negligence, the apportionment of the damages was never discussed. The full quantum fell on Mai.

Of note, while Mai argued that the quantum was excessive, the appeals court did not find that the trial judge made an error with the award amount. He only failed to consider the degree to which the accused and deceased were liable. 

The Appeals Court found that Mai was 60% responsible for the incident, and Julia 40% – reducing the judgment award handed down in 2018 by 40%.

The estate of Julia Arana was awarded $130,289.62 plus the statutory interest of 6% on the sum from the date of the judgment in September 2018. This is $86,859.74 less than the original award. 

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