Blinded on the train

ca p6 transnet done INLSA Serge Loutala leaves the Western Cape High Court

Fatima Schroeder

HIGH COURT WRITER

BROKEN windows on trains are at the centre of a dispute in a R1.1 million civil action a film technician has brought against the Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa) – which owns Metrorail – in the Western Cape High Court.

In the action, Serge Loutala, 39, alleges that an unknown suspect threw a stone through the broken window of a train he was travelling in on October 29, 2006.

At the time, he had been travelling from Salt River to Nyanga.

The stone hit him in the right eye, causing him to lose the use of that eye.

The court has only been asked to decide the merits of the case and not the amount of damages.

In papers before the court, Loutala said a vast majority of passengers were compelled to use trains because they couldn’t afford other transport.

He added that Prasa had a duty to ensure it provided a transport service in the public’s best interest, and had an obligation to ensure that all carriages were in a proper state of repair and fitted with shatterproof windows of adequate strength.

In addition, he said in his papers that any damage or defects should be repaired immediately or as soon as reasonably possible.

He alleged that Prasa was negligent for failing to ensure the carriage he was travelling in was fitted with windows.

In his testimony before Acting Judge Nape Dolamo yesterday, Loutala said several windows in the carriage he was in were broken or completely removed.

He said he boarded the train in Salt River and that it was quite full.

A seat became available as passengers disembarked in Langa and he sat close to a window.

At the next stop he noticed that there was no window in the frame.

However, it didn’t occur to him to move.

Loutala testified that he often travelled in trains with broken or missing windows.

It was about 3.30pm in the area of Netreg station when he felt something hit his right eye.

As he grabbed hold of his face, he noticed that the projectile was a stone.

He saw blood on his clothes and other commuters rushed to assist him, Loutala testified.

Today, he has lost the use of his right eye and has not been able to return to work as a film technician, the court heard.

He wears a patch over his eye and lifted it to show the court that he was unable to open it.

In responding papers, Prasa denied the allegations of negligence.

However, it added that, should the court find that it was negligent, it should also find that Loutala was partly to blame because he failed to take steps to ensure he was not in close proximity to a broken window.

The case continues.

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