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Pretoria - In one of the biggest damages claim payouts to date in South Africa, the Gauteng MEC for Education was ordered by the Pretoria High Court to pay a total of R23.5 million in damages to the son of a judge who suffered various injuries, including to the brain, 10 years ago when he fractured his skull during a school playground game.
KwaZulu-Natal Judge Piet Koen, who was called in to adjudicate the amount of damages that should be awarded to Christian Rabie, awarded the 23-year-old R20.2m for loss of income and earning capacity.
He also awarded R800 000 in general damages, R787 386 towards future medical expenses and R1.6m as a 7.5 percent add-on for the costs of protecting the award.
The judge ordered that a trust be established to administer the money.
Christian, son of Pretoria High Court Judge Pierre Rabie, was 13 years old when he was hurt in a game where the older boys flipped the younger ones into the air in a cricket net.
Christian was at the time a Grade 8 pupil at the Hoërskool Waterkloof.
During a break on July 31, 2003, Christian was one of the children who were tossed into the air.
The others fell back onto the net, but he missed the net and fell to the ground.
The court earlier ruled that the education department was liable for the damages, as the school had a duty to supervise the learners to ensure they did not engage in dangerous activities.
The accident occurred away from the main buildings on the southern side of the rugby fields, where there were no teachers on duty.
But the court found that the teachers had to do ground duty during breaks and should have noticed a gathering of children in the area.
The school, in denying liability, argued that the area was off-limits to the children.
But the court found that the teachers should have known that children could enter areas that were off-limits.
The department in 2008 appealed against the ruling that it was held 100 percent liable for Christian’s damages.
At the time, it was argued that he and the other children should have known the game of tossing each other up in the air was dangerous and against the school rules and that they could get injured.
It was said that they, and not the department, were thus negligent.
But five years ago, the court turned down the appeal and said Christian was 13 and lacked the maturity to realise he could be injured.
“All he saw was his classmates having fun,” one of a full bench of three judges said.
Christian lost consciousness after the fall and he was taken to the Pretoria East Hospital.
His skull was fractured and he was in the intensive care unit for six weeks and on a ventilator for 45 days.
He was unable to attend school for the rest of 2003, but returned to grade seven the following year based on his good marks.
The court heard that he was an above average student and up to the accident had done very well at school.
Christian is at present a law student at Unisa, but several experts, including psychologists and neurosurgeons, said in their opinion he had lost some of his intellectual abilities due to his injuries.
Judge Koen said Christian’s intention had always been to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, former Chief Justice Pierre Rabie, and his father, a judge of the high court.
His counsel submitted that although Christian probably never thought as far as to picture himself as a judge, it must be accepted that he would have wanted to follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather.
Judge Koen commented that Christian had had a promising future, but now, in the prime of his life, suffered from a severe brain injury.
“He still has to come to terms with the full impact of his injuries. This will be a painful realisation,” the judge said.
The education department not only has to pay the R23.5m damages, but also has to bear the legal fees as well as pay the fees of 17 experts.