Pretoria - In 1996, a teenager drove into a huge pothole in Pretoria and her life changed for ever. On Monday – 18 years later – Annemarie Jacobs was awarded R4.2 million in damages from the City of Tshwane.
It was a day of relief for Jacobs, whose medical and legal woes have been intense since that night, a few months after she had finished matric, when she was on her way to the Kolonnade Centre in Montana to go ice skating.
It had been raining and, in the dark, she drove into the pothole in Breedt Street which was full of water. She lost control of her car and collided with a tree.
She was in a coma for two weeks, and her injuries included a badly mutilated leg, multiple fractures and brain damage.
In an unusual case which has dragged on for years, the Tshwane Metro – which is responsible for the city’s roads – has now been ordered to pay her R4.2 million in damages.
Jacobs’s battle has been long and arduous; aside from having to forgo her dream of becoming a hairdresser – and settle for being a nail technician instead – the legal action was exhausting.
She consulted a lawyer after the accident, but then changed lawyers. In 2006, Sonette Böning came to her aid, but still the matter could not be resolved as the council initially refused to accept liability.
This was despite the fact
that the council had been informed about the pothole about three weeks before the accident but had failed to repair it. In 2010, she and the council settled, with each side accepting half the liability for the accident.
But the council objected to the R12 million claim Jacobs instituted, which would have meant paying her R6m.
The council lined up a string of its own experts to try to get the amount reduced.
It took until yesterday for the parties to reach agreement, with the council – without calling its experts to testify – agreeing to settle and pay Jacobs R4.2m within a month.
Jacobs said she was bitter that the case took so long and that the council did not agree to compensate her from the start.
She said she agreed to accept 50 percent liability just to speed things up.
Before court were details of the accident and Jacobs’s injuries.
She had a fractured femur, fractures to both ankles, and a fractured foot. Her left femoral artery was severed and she suffered brain and head injuries.
Jacobs – who is now 37 and a mother of two – said she struggled to walk to this day as her left leg was shorter than her right leg.
She said she would use the payout to recoup all the debt she and her husband had incurred because of the accident.
“It will never give me back the life I had prior to the accident, but it will assist us financially,” she told the Pretoria News.
Documents regarding the case also got lost during the long time it took to come to finality.
Her lawyer said she had engaged the services of 11 experts who were due to testify and the council had engaged the services of six experts to try to reduce the claim.
Böning said according to her knowledge, this was one of the longest personal injury claims in South Africa.
“My client fought this battle against an organ of state which funds their litigation from taxpayers’ money. She had to borrow money from the bank to pay for the experts’ reports.”