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Cape Town -
The widow of an Italian man who fell to his death off a snowy precipice at a popular Cape winter scenic spot has lost her bid to hold a private nature reserve liable for damages.
In a Western Cape High Court judgment handed down on Wednesday, Judge Bennie Griesel dismissed the civil case of Federica Za.
She instituted the action after her husband, Pier Alberto Za, slipped on snow and fell from a precipice near Matroosberg, the highest mountain peak in the Boland.
The incident took place when Za and a friend, Ben Moggee, took a trip to the mountain on June 27, 2009.
After losing the family’s breadwinner, Federica Za took two defendants to court for loss of support - André Smith, the owner of the farm on which Matroosberg Private Nature Reserve operates, and Matroosberg Reservaat, which runs the business.
When Za and Moggee visited the nature reserve that day, Judge Griesel’s judgment read, they had paid an entrance fee and signed an indemnity acknowledging that they were using the facilities at their own risk.
They had then driven 4x4s along a designated track up to a parking area at Conical Peak where visitors could enjoy 360º views.
Their idea was to put out folding chairs at a spot close to the edge to soak up the view and drink a beer.
At the time, there was “no warning of any danger they might face in the direction in which they were walking”, according to the judgment.
Both Za and Moggee unexpectedly, and almost simultaneously, slipped and slid on a “hard and slippery” surface towards the precipice.
While Moggee had been able to stop his slide before the edge, Za had slid over and fallen to his death.
Federica Za contended that one or both of the defendants had a duty to ensure that her husband was protected from, or warned of, any unusual risks, including the risk of injury or death; however, the defendants denied any negligence or that they owed him any such duty, arguing that the risk was “patent”.
Judge Griesel found that Federica Za had not proved that there was a “causal connection” between the alleged negligence on the part of the defendants and her husband’s death.
She had, therefore, failed to establish that the defendants were legally liable to her for loss of support.
Although an expert witness for Federica Za proposed that the site could be made safer for visitors with certain measures, Judge Griesel said that both Moggee and Za were acquainted with snowy conditions.
These safety measures, he found, would have equipped first-time visitors with the same knowledge Moggee had.
“The fact that, notwithstanding this knowledge, he slipped literally to within an inch of his life demonstrates persuasively that the steps proposed… would not, on the probabilities, have prevented the death of (Za),” he said.