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School must pay for boy's injuries, court rules

By ZELDA VENTER Time of article published Mar 29, 2016

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Pretoria - Schools had a duty to ensure that their pupils were safe at all times when in their care, the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) has ruled.

The SCA ordered that a private school in Centurion should compensate a boy who was injured on its playground in 2009.

Jaco van der Merwe was injured when a steel dropper (post) used to hold up a sapling tree became impaled in his rectum.

His mother Cora van der Merwe instituted a damages claim for about R2 million against Pro Tempo Academy in the high court in Pretoria. The court found the school 80% liable for the in injuries suffered by Jaco.

The judge said planting a tree with a dropper beside it in an area where children ran and played created a dangerous and hazardous situation. The judge at the time said the school should have foreseen this.

“A prudent man in the shoes of the school would not have placed the dropper in the vicinity where children were known to run and play. The prudent man might have secured this specific tree by other means less potentially harmful,” the judge said.

Before the amount due to be paid was determined, the school turned to the SCA to appeal against the court’s finding that it was 80% liable for the injuries.

Jaco, who was 13 at the time, suffered severe injuries, including the tearing of his bladder and rectum. He underwent extensive operations and suffered excruciating pain.

Jaco was playing cricket with his friends on September 2, 2009, when he somehow landed on the dropper. He was not feeling well that day and he somehow landed on the steel rod, which was protruding about 30cm from the ground.

The dropper was situated in a separate part of the playground, where the senior pupils often played rugby and cricket during break.

A groundsman employed at the school earlier testified that he was told by the other children about the accident. He found Jaco in the toilet bleeding profusely on the bathroom floor.

Jaco told him he had landed on the dropper, but he was not sure how.

The principal testified that it was a new playground and the school planted a number of small trees, to later provide shade. These were fastened to steel droppers.

A teacher did concede that a dropper protruding above a tree in a playground could be dangerous. According to her, they did envisage that a child might fall on a dropper and be injured. The school argued that Jaco contributed to the accident by being negligent. But the court said regard had to be given to the fact to his youthful inability to control irrational and impulsive acts.

The court also took into consideration that he was hyperactive.

The school’s main argument before the SCA was “public policy considerations demanded that in view of the most extraordinary and peculiar act of Jaco when he sat on the dropper, liability should not be extended to the school.”

But Judge MS Navsa said the school did not take reasonable steps to prevent a foreseeable risk of harm through misadventure from materialising. The high court will now have to consider the amount of damages that should be awarded to Jaco, now aged 20.

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Pretoria News

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