Cape Town - The Western Cape High Court has ruled in favour of a US widow who made a R24 million damages claim against owners of a shark cage diving operation, after her husband drowned when the diving boat capsized off the coast of Kleinbaai in 2008.
The ruling came as thousands of holidaymakers head to the province, with many set to try shark cage diving.
Judge Kate Savage handed down the judgment on behalf of Acting Judge Alec Freund on Tuesday. The ruling was just on the merits of the case and not about the amount claimed.
Sarah Tallman sued the vessel, Shark Team, the skipper, Grant Tuckett, and shark cage diving business White Shark Projects for negligence and loss of support after the incident on April 13 six years ago.
Shark Team capsized after being hit by a wave near Gansbaai. Tallman’s husband was one of three people who died, along with his best friend, Casey Lajeunesse, and Norwegian Kenneth Rogue.
The court made “significant” findings about what constitutes reasonable conduct and what amounts to negligence when taking tourists out to sea and chumming for sharks. Judge Freund ruled that Tuckett was “not unwilling to mislead” in his evidence and other ways.
Tuckett was also found not to have kept a proper lookout and to have been negligent in failing to depart from the area in which he had anchored, given the risk posed by the swell conditions.
The court found that the negligence was connected to the vessel capsizing and, as a result, to the deaths.
The court also found that Tuckett acted negligently after the vessel capsized in not taking steps to determine whether all the passengers had been rescued, as Tallman was found to be missing only an hour afterwards.
The boat owner, White Shark Projects, was found to be jointly and severally liable for the negligence of Tuckett.
The court agreed that the owner should have put proper safety protocols in place.
Tallman’s attorney, Gavin Fitzmaurice, said: “Hopefully this is a step closer to bringing Sarah the closure she needs, and also some measure of compensation for the loss.”
Tallman said: “I am greatly relieved that the judge has ruled in our favour, and that my reasons for initiating this lawsuit appear to have been justified. I’ve gone through more than six years of severe emotional and financial distress dealing with this lawsuit and very lengthy trial… It has managed to overshadow the grief and loss that I’ve experienced losing my husband Chris so soon after our wedding.
“I know the only way that I’ll ever get the real closure that I’ve desperately been seeking is for me to forgive them. I hope that they can finally admit that their actions were negligent, and that it is time to end this case so that we can all move on with the next chapter in our lives.”
Attempts to reach White Shark Projects attorney Michael Tucker proved futile on Tuesday.