A piece of rotten wood which fell off a building on to the head of a pedestrian who was walking past, has cost the owners of the building dearly who were found by a court to be negligent by failing to maintain the building.
Stephen Eze turned to the Western Cape High Court to claim damages from the Adderley body corporate in Adderley Street, Cape Town, following the injuries he suffered in the incident.
Eze alleged that the body corporate’s negligence was responsible for the accident in March 2016, when a piece of rotten wood fell off the ceiling overhanging the sidewalk along the property.
The overhang is on the front side of the Adderley building which faces the public pavement, and hangs over the pavement. The body corporate is responsible for the management and maintenance of the property in question.
Though Eze did not see the objects falling from the ceiling, it was his case that a piece of plank fell from the ceiling of the building.
Eze testified that he was a Nigerian, living in South Africa for 11 years. At the time of the incident, he worked as a security guard. He is currently self-employed and sells jackets.
According to him, on the morning in question he was on his way to his uncle’s shop, which is close to the Adderley building.
When he was two to three feet from his uncle’s shop, two pieces of wood fell from the ceiling, and one struck him on his left shoulder, knocking him to the ground. It was a heavy (piece of) wood; in length it was almost a meter long. The thickness of the wood was 7.5 cm, and its width was 12 cm.
The place where the wood fell from was covered with a ceiling which was water damaged with the wood rotting.
Two of his friends came to help him up. One of them went to the property to report the incident.
Eze testified that he did not see the wood falling. He only felt the wood on his shoulder. He did not even see where it fell from, but he was adamant that it fell from the ceiling of the building.
Eze went to hospital with severe pain, but because of the long wait he left and went to the pharmacy for pills. The next day he went to the hospital again, but he was not helped. He said he was still on pain killers.
The supervisor of the building testified that the incident was reported to him on the day it happened. He immediately went outside and saw two wooden planks on the ground, and Eze on a chair.
The supervisor said in his opinion the planks came from the ceiling as they had bird droppings and birds lived in that roof. He noticed an opening in the ceiling, between two balconies. The opening or hole in the ceiling was due to water leaking through the balcony onto the ceiling. He said the area was always wet, but after the incident renovations had been done to the building.
Judge Constance Nziweni said it was apparent from the evidence of the supervisor that water had damaged the ceiling. The evidence led by Eze demonstrated that the ceiling in question was in a state of disrepair.
“ The condition of the relevant ceiling at the time of the accident is more likely to produce situations where accidents similar to the instant case do occur. There is no question that the conditions of the ceiling increased the risk of an accident. The incident would not have happened if reasonable care had been taken by the defendants,” the judge said.
She added that the falling of the planks from a ceiling, the state of the ceiling, together with the fact that birds were using the roof in question as a shelter, afforded reasonable evidence that the accident arose from want of proper care.
She ruled that the building owners were liable for the damages which Eze suffered as a result of the incident.