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News Article : Look out
Category: Liability Insurance : Liability
Author:Nigel Benetton
Email:[email protected]
Posted:10 Sep 2006

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Consumers turning more to the courts

The recent spate of judgments in favour of public liability claimants points to an increasing interest in consumer protection issues. Almost every day there is a case reported of a hospital, school, or retail outlet being sued for damages. In the past, many of these would have been limited to an exchange of a few angry words or letters, with injured parties being sent on their way - but not any more.

As consumers increasingly read about successful cases, so more potential plaintiffs are spurred to put their grievances before the courts.
  
Shoprite Checkers finally agreed to accept 80% liability for a claim of R310 000 for injuries suffered by a shopper when an advertising board crashed down upon her in 2002. Shoprite had initially said it was her fault because she did not keep a good look out. Pity it took them four years and plenty legal costs to change their mind.

Eskom has to pay R2,8m for a boy (now 22 years old)  who sustained injuries when he climbed passed a pylon barrier and was electrocuted in 1994. The judge rightly noted that it was “typical of the impulsive behaviour in which children of tender age sometimes engage.” In other words the anti-climbing device that was fitted was insufficient to deter a child, and it was the utility’s responsibility to anticipate that, not for a child to “behave himself.”

Increasing numbers of dog owners are being successfully sued too, when their dogs injure people. A judge has found in favour of a mother who sued the owner of a dog that bit her son so badly he had to have 400 stitches. It was no defence that the boy smacked the dog’s nose and thereby ‘provoked it’. Instead, the Judge said the dog ‘acted contrary to the behaviour one would expect from a well-behaved house pet.’ The claim for R1 million remains to be determined.

The State Theatre has been ordered to pay damages for a patron who fell on her way out and sustained injuries. Although she exited before the main lights were turned on it was found the theatre owed a duty to ensure the passageways were ‘adequately lit’. The claimed amount of R234 000 remains to be determined.

These cases were reported all within the space of seven weeks. And there are undoubtedly many more that go unreported.

In each case above the initial belief that the plaintiff was responsible for his or her own injuries through purposeful acts, negligence, or misbehaving, has been rejected.

Increasingly businesses are realising they have a responsibility to ensure the safety of their customers and members of the public. Assuming the customer must ‘look out’ is no defence to an unexpected and costly claim.

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