Bitter-sweet victory for paraplegic injured in rugby game 14 years ago
Pretoria - In an aftermath to a rugby injury which happened more than 14 years ago, the court ordered that the now 32-year-old is entitled to damages.
The matter involved a then 18-year-old matriculant left a paraplegic after he was carried off the field without a neck brace or stretcher.
Gauteng High Court, Pretoria Acting Judge SA Thobane ruled that the North West Education Department, as well as the Leopards Rugby Union and Kosh Sports and Trauma Services, were liable to pay Izak Foster 100% of the multimillion-rand damages he could prove he had suffered.
The judge found that the two medics who carried Foster from the field after he had suffered an injury were negligent to do so without proper support.
They simply carried him off with their bare hands, despite pleas from Foster to leave him on the ground until they obtained a stretcher or something to support his back.
The rugby match took place in May 2006 and was hosted by a school in Potchefstroom.
Foster tackled a boy from the opposing team and both fell to the ground. Another player, tackled by someone else, landed on top of Foster’s neck.
Two first-aid attendants from Kosh Sports and Trauma Services then took him to the side of the field.
He was taken by helicopter to the Eugene Marais Hospital, where he was operated on. He, however, lost the use of his legs.
Foster testified that he could recall lying on the field and hearing the two first aid attendants talking.
He deduced they did not have a stretcher and asked them not to move him. They told him not to worry, but the next moment they picked him up with their bare hands and moved him to the side of the field.
Foster said as they moved him he tried to keep his head still to minimise further damage as he knew he had a neck injury.
They placed him in a semi-sitting position, he said, and his head kept flipping forwards and backwards.
He said as he was carried off the field, he heard a “clacking” noise in his neck.
Foster said he struggled to speak at that stage and he had no feeling from his shoulders to his neck.
One of his coaches came and prayed for God to save his life.
He was later told in hospital that he would never be able to walk again and he had made peace with that.
Foster said while he could not use his legs, he had limited movement of his arms.
It emerged during the trial that one of the first aid attendants who carried Foster off the field, were not registered with the Health Professions Council of SA, as he should have been.
The judge said the defendants also did not bother to check whether he was a registered medic.
He said they thus omitted to ensure the person they entrusted with the safety of the children was qualified.
The judge said the hosting school, which fell under the North West Department of Education, also had the duty to ensure that an ambulance was on standby and that equipment, such as a spinal board or stretcher, were available, which they did.
While it is not clear whether the injury when Foster was tackled or carried from the field without a spine board, caused his injuries, the court found that the game should have never commenced in the first place without all the safety measures in place.
The judge said the medics’ actions either contributed or caused the harm.
Jean-Ray Pearton, who appeared on behalf of Foster, said it took 10 years, but justice eventually prevailed.