Cape Town - The Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) has ruled against a US widow who made a R24 million damages claim against the owners of a shark cage diving operation after her husband drowned when the diving boat capsized off Kleinbaai in 2008.
The SCA dismissed Sarah Tallman’s action on Thursday and ordered her to pay the vessel, Shark Team, the skipper, Grant Tuckett, and shark cage diving business White Shark Projects and their counsel costs following their successful appeal.
In 2014, the Western Cape High Court ruled in favour of Tallman, who had sued Shark Team, Tuckett and White Shark Projects for negligence and loss of support after the incident on April 13.
Tallman’s husband Chris was one of three tourists who drowned in the incident seven years ago. The others were Chris Tallman’s best friend, Casey Lajeunesse, and Norwegian Kenneth Rogue. Shark Team capsized after being hit by a wave off Kleinbaai.
The high court had found that the negligence was connected to the vessel capsizing and, as a result, to the deaths. But yesterday the SCA concluded that Tuckett had not acted negligently in choosing the anchoring spot he did, and there were no warning signs which would have alerted a reasonable skipper in his position to leave in time to avoid the wave.
On Thursday, the SCA said it was clear from the evidence given by those who saw the wave that capsized Shark Team that it was “extraordinarily large” and was the only wave of its kind to be seen that day.
“In my view, there are a number of criticisms that may be levelled against the judgment of the (high) court below. They amount to misdirections,” the SCA judgment said.
The SCA found that high court Judge Alec Freund “simply accepted the evidence of the plaintiff’s witnesses and rejected the evidence of the defendants’ witnesses without giving reasons of any substance about why he preferred the one over the other.
Michael Tucker, attorney for White Shark Projects and Grant Tuckett, said: “Our clients’ defence to Mrs Tallman’s claim had as much to do with vindicating the reputation of the boat owner and the professional integrity of Mr Tuckett as it had to do with resisting Mrs Tallman’s unjustified claim for monetary damages.”
Tallman’s attorney, Gavin Fitzmaurice, said: “We’re disappointed. My client said she was speechless and left without words.”
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