US widow sues SA shark divers for $2.2m

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Cape Town -

An American whose husband died when a shark-cage diving boat he was on capsized near Kleinbaai is suing for $2.2 million in damages.

Banker Chris Tallman was on an adventure holiday with friend Casey Lajeunesse when they died in the incident on April 13, 2008, along with a Norwegian tourist, Kenneth Rogue.

Lajeunesse had been the best man at Tallman’s wedding in Mexico just a few months earlier.

Tallman’s wife Sarah Tallman, 40, of Charlotte, North Carolina has turned to the Western Cape High Court, which this week began hearing her case.

According to court papers, her damages claim is against the vessel named Shark Team, the skipper and shark cage diving business White Shark Projects.

They are defending the action.

While Sarah Tallman is asking for $2.2m (R24m) for loss of support, her attorney, Gavin Fitzmaurice of Webber Wentzel, said that for now, the court was dealing only with the issue of whether the defendants were liable.

If she is successful, damages would be determined in separate proceedings.

In her court papers, it is alleged that her husband had died as a result of the defendants’ “negligence” and the capsizing of Shark Team.

Among the allegations of negligence were contentions that they’d allowed the vessel to go to sea in weather and sea conditions that they ought to have known “could pose a danger” to the passengers’ safety.

The three defendants, in their own court papers, denied these allegations.

Chris Tallman had entered into a contract, part of which included a “waiver, release and indemnity statement of understanding”, according to their papers.

It had been an “express term of the contract” that he had “acknowledged that cage diving, shark diving and boating are hazardous activities and accepted any and all risks of injury or death”.

The court on Thursday heard evidence from former Cheetahs rugby player Hendrik Meyer and his wife Marili, who were on the boat with Tallman and Lajeunesse.

Hendrik Meyer testified that it had been a windy, cold and gloomy day.

To him, the sea had seemed “quite rough”.

Under cross-examination by advocate Darryl Cooke however, he acknowledged that he was not very familiar with the sea and could not accurately assess the sea conditions on that day.

He had chatted to the two Americans, who had told him that they were very adventurous people and that they had come to the Cape especially for the shark-cage diving experience.

Meyer said that when the wave hit, the boat had flipped over and that it all happened “so quickly”.

He’d fallen into the cabin of the boat.

“The next thing I was upside down and water was coming from all sides,” he testified.

Marili Meyer, who described the swells as “big”, said she had fallen off the boat and had appeared to be the first to surface.

The couple had sought refuge on the hull of the boat, then helped others.

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Cape Times

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