The Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) has dismissed an application by a Limpopo man who wanted to claim R2.8 million from the local municipality after he blamed firefighters for cutting his heel fat pad when saving his life from a car wreck.
Hulisani Viccel Sithangu was driving a minibus when he collided with a cow in Polokwane in October 2014.
He got trapped in the wreckage, and firefighters were called to the scene, and they used the jaws of life to get him out.
According to his evidence, after the collision, his minibus was extensively damaged, and his legs were trapped. This prevented him from getting out of the wreckage, and he remained trapped in the wreckage for over an hour and was in terrible pain.
He couldn’t explain how his heel fat pad was cut because, during the rescue operation, firefighters told him that he must not look where they would be working.
Even though he looked away, he testified that he warned them to be careful and not to touch the right leg as it was not numb, but they touched it anyway.
He then heard one of the firefighters exclaiming, ‘’Sh...t. Oh Sh...t’’ and didn’t understand why the firefighter made those utterances.
He said that after this, firefighters quickly dressed his deeply lacerated foot with a bandage. He said he only noticed that his right heel was badly injured when the hospital staff removed the wound dressing.
The doctor who examined him wrote on the medical record that he sustained multiple fractures on the lower part of his body involving both knees and both ankles and had an open fracture of the right heel fat pad.
After his release from hospital, Sithangu approached the Limpopo High Court and instituted a delictual claim against Capricorn District Municipality. In his claim, he said the open fracture on the right heel fat pad was caused by the municipal firefighters when they accidentally cut the fat pad while extricating him from the wreckage.
In court, he testified that before the firefighters arrived, there were no wounds on his legs. He even asked onlookers to assist him in taking off his shoes, and he gave them to his daughter as they were not damaged.
In response, the municipality asserted that the place where the accident occurred was not within its area of authority or operation but fell under the Polokwane Local Municipality.
Essentially, its defence was that Sithangu had sued the wrong party.
Unfortunately for Sithangu, the high court dismissed his application, saying his evidence was not sufficiently reliable.
“The plaintiff did not satisfy the threshold of proving the identity of the firemen who attended him on a balance of probabilities,” said the high court judge.
Disenchanted by the outcome, Sithangu appealed the ruling, and the matter was heard again at the SCA.
SCA Judge Dumisani Zondi said Sithangu’s assumptions cannot be correct because he stated that his right leg was not numb. It is therefore improbable that he would not become aware when the firefighters cut his right heel pad.
Also, in his statement to police, he did not blame the firefighters for some of the injuries he sustained at the scene.
“Thus, in my view, the applicant failed to discharge the onus on him to prove that the injury to his right heel fat pad was caused by the respondent’s firefighters and not by the accident,” said Zondi.
Therefore, Zondi dismissed Sithangu’s application.