Pretoria - A late night accident by a truck driver transporting frozen vegetables who failed to negotiate a sharp bend on a provincial road was the subject of a legal tussle by the MEC for Roads and Public Works in the Eastern Cape.
At the centre of the tussle is the fact that the Road Accident Fund (RAF), and not the MEC, should be held liable for the damages.
Richard Yeomans was injured when the truck he was driving along the R701 between the Gariep Dam and Venterstad overturned. He initially sued both the MEC and the RAF for damages.
It was argued on behalf of Yeomans that the road agency failed to maintain signs warning motorists on this road about the sharp bend ahead and did not caution them to slow down.
He also said that while the agency had a duty to maintain the provincial roads, this road was in a poor condition as the tar around the bend had worn off, which had narrowed the surface significantly. The truck, as a result, had overturned, which left him with severe injuries. According to Yeomans, the accident was partly the fault of the MEC – by not warning motorists of the approaching turn in the road – and his employer, for which the RAF was liable.
He initially sued the RAF on the basis that his employers did not keep the truck in a roadworthy condition.
According to Yeomans, the truck’s brakes were faulty. He said he did tell his employer about this prior to taking to the road. His argument was that, as his employer was also negligent, the RAF was equally liable for his damages.
The RAF, however, raised a special plea before the high court in the Eastern Cape that its liability could only arise from a wrongful act of the truck owner.
It also argued that because the owner was Yeoman’s employer, the RAF’s liability was excluded by the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act as he was injured while on duty.
Yeomans later withdrew his claim against the RAF and only continued to sue the MEC.
The MEC argued that the owner of the truck was liable due to the faulty brakes. But Yeomans later described the defect of the brakes on which the MEC had relied as a slight shudder when he applied the brakes.
He also said that, on his employer’s instructions, he had the brakes checked, and a mechanic confirmed that all was in order. The owner of the truck had said the brake drums should be skimmed.
The high court found that the sole cause of the accident was the negligence of the department in failing in its statutory duties to maintain the road and provide adequate warning signs of the sharp bend.
It was ordered that the roads department should pay the damages which Yeomans could prove he had suffered. Unhappy with the ruling, the department launched an appeal before three judges of the high court, and once again lost.
Deputy Judge President David van Zyl concluded that the MEC’s submissions that a wrongful act of the truck owner contributing to the accident made the RAF exclusively liable was based on a wrong interpretation of the related legislation. The judge also said there was no obvious fault with the brakes, thus the department was liable.