Durban - The South African Police Service has to pay more than R1.2 million to compensate an Umhlanga car dealership after an out-of-the-box Jaguar was written off in an accident caused by a policeman.
The black Jaguar F type, V8 SC was the launch vehicle of the model which was being introduced in South Africa at the time. It was valued at more than R1.3 million, but, after the accident – which occurred on the N3 near the Spaghetti Junction a Sunday afternoon in July 2013 – it was sold for scrap for R112 000 and Jaguar Umhlanga sued the minister of police and the policeman for the balance.
In the recent trial before Durban High Court Judge Themba Sishi, the driver, Trevor Clack, employed as the dealership’s brand manager, said he was taking the car on a test drive before the launch in the coming week.
“The sky was blue and the visibility was clear,” he said.
As he passed The Pavilion Shopping Centre, he changed lanes from the extreme right-hand one to the middle one.
He noticed a car in front of him, a Mercedes-Benz, slowing down, so he released the accelerator and applied the brakes.
As he did that, the car came to standstill in front of him and, with cars in both lanes on either side, he was forced to stop dead to avoid hitting it.
Moments later he heard a bang from behind as a minibus taxi crashed into the back of him.
The airbags activated and the Jaguar was propelled into the rear of the Mercedes, which was still stationary. Clack, who sustained head injuries, said he saw the taxi lying on its side and people “were scattered all over the road”.
It emerged later in the trial that the taxi driver died in the collision.
SAPS Colonel Samuel Koopman testified that the Mercedes was his but was being driven by a colleague, Constable Alan Titus.
The two were coming from Upington in the Northern Cape.
They were on duty and on their way to rugby championships in Margate.
He said he had not been concentrating on the road but looked up as Titus applied the brakes and saw a white motor vehicle partly in front of his left-hand side.
However, the judge noted in his judgment, he could not identify this vehicle on the CCTV video footage recorded by the South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral).
Titus also claimed that a white vehicle cut in front of him, forcing him to “apply brakes”, but he too could not identify it on the video.
“He admitted that stopping a car in the middle lane of a freeway could be a danger to other road users and he could not explain why he had not swerved,” the judge said.
Judge Sishi said the taxi driver, a Mr Duma, had undoubtedly been negligent and the accident could have been avoided if he had driven at an acceptable speed and distance from other vehicles.
But, he said, Titus had been unable to explain why he had not just slowed down and changed lanes instead of stopping completely on a busy freeway.
“There is no evidence to support the existence of the white car … and anyway, the presence of this car was never put to Clack in cross-examination.
“Why he stopped remains unanswered. Even Koopman was evasive. Titus even mentioned that he was not used to driving on a road with three lanes and there were no freeways in the Northern Cape.”
Ruling that Clack was not negligent because he had been faced with a “sudden emergency”, the judge found the minister and Titus liable to compensate the dealership.
In his evidence, dealer principal Darryn Grey said the Jaguar, worth R1.32 million, had been damaged beyond economical repair.
“We put it out to tender to various scrap dealers.
“We offered it to Jaguar South Africa for them to conduct accident analysis on and also offered it to various people in the motor racing industry who may have been interested in buying the engine and gearbox.
“Ultimately the best offer was for R112 000,” Grey said in his evidence.
The judge said this had not been contested and granted judgment for R1.2 million, plus interest and legal costs.