Fiji army ordered to compensate widow

By Anish Chand

The Fiji Military Forces has been ordered to pay $113,922 (US$52,958) to the widow of an Abel Seaman who died while on duty at the Suva Naval Base.

Salaseini Denarau legally challenged the FMF and the Attorney General over the death of her husband, Serevi Vananalagi after a military Board of Inquiry found that the deceased to be at fault.

On 25th February 2016, Serevi was cutting an empty fuel drum using an acetylene torch when the drum exploded in his face. He died instantly.

The incident happened at his workplace at the Naval Division Workshop at Walu Bay in Suva.

In reaching his decision, High Court Judge Justice Anare Tuilevuka questioned the availability of any standing operating procedure that was to be followed by the late Vananalagi.

“There is absolutely no evidence before me that there was a system of work in place. The Standing Operation Procedures Booklet was nowhere to be seen at the time the Board of Inquiry wrote its Report some two weeks later and the workshops where all the equipment and apparatus were kept was freely accessible to all and sundry,” Justice Tuilevuka found.

“In my view, if there was an SOP in place about any particular method of cleaning or cutting an empty fuel drum which Serevi disregarded, that would be sufficient to establish volenti-non fit injuria or even contributory negligence,” he ruled.

Justice Tuilevuka found the Fiji Military Forces had breached their duty of care under the Health and Safety At Work Act and also under common law.

“The employer must take all reasonable precautions to minimize any risk. The duty entails setting up an adequate safety procedure in the workplace. If a safety procedure is in place, and if it is adequate, the employer must still enforce it. A failure to enforce such procedures constitutes a breach of duty under the Act and also under common law,” he found.

Vananalagi was 27 years old at the time of his death and the court determined that he had another 28 years left to work.

Based on the above, Justice Tuilevuka awarded $3,500 (US$1,627) in special damages, $2,500 (US$1,162) for loss of expectation of life and $133,922 (US$62,256) for lost years pursuant to the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provision) (Death & Interests) Act.

The Court has also awarded $7,900 (US$3,672) in interest from the date when the case was filed and $1000 (US$464) in court costs to late Vananalagi’s widow.