Edible oils manufacturer Bidco has been ordered to pay Sh1.1 million to the family of a former worker suspected to have been murdered at its Thika plant 13 years ago.
Justice Joseph Sergon gave the order as compensation for pain and suffering, loss of dependency as well as special damages following the death of Albert Peter Zedi in October 2002.
Mr Zedi’s wife Everlyne Naliaka and brother Isaac Jomo Odinga, sued the company for negligence since Mr Zedi died in the course of his duty.
The 33-year old father of two left home for work on October 16, 2002 never to return home.
His decomposed body was found four days later in one of the company’s stores lying on cartons. It was blood-stained, swollen, with head, neck and leg injuries.
According to Bidco, police investigations led to the arrest and prosecution of its chief security officer with the offence of destroying evidence while three other workers were charged with the murder but were later acquitted.
Bidco also claimed that the Attorney General opened an inquiry into the murder whose outcome has never been disclosed to date and therefore the company could not take any blame.
However Justice Sergon dismissed the claims saying that Bidco should have presented evidence showing that its employees work in a secure, sealed and well-guarded environment.
“If there were proper working security systems his body could have easily been found within a short time. I am convinced that the circumstantial evidence which presents itself indicts the company to be liable,” the judge ruled.
Bidco had also told the court that since Mr Zedi was a casual labourer it had no statutory duty over his safety.
But the judge said that the company had an obligation to ensure the safety of all its workers, regardless of their employment terms.
“It is clear in my mind that the evidence tendered shows that the deceased’s working environment was not safe. Whether an employee is hired on permanent or temporary terms, the duty imposed upon the employer to provide a safe working environment does not shift,” said Justice Sergon.
The court heard that on the fateful day, Mr Zedi who worked in the packaging department as the supervisor was on duty with a colleague. A Bidco staff testified that he went to the washrooms at 2 am but never came back.
He could not be found in the packaging section when an attempt was made to locate him at around 4:30 am, the witness testified.
He added that guards said that Mr Zedi had left for home and that since he was off duty the following four days, only learnt of his death on resuming work.
The post-mortem exam report showed that Mr Zedi suffered multiple soft tissue injuries.
He had worked for eight years at Bidco and earned Sh9,600 monthly. The judge said there was no evidence that he had disciplinary issues.
“The question which lingers in my mind is why it took long for the company to discover the deceased’s body and yet it was clear that he died inside the packaging material store where he was working. Was there an attempt to cover up the cause of his death? I am convinced the family is entitled to the award for pain and suffering,” the judge said.