Pretoria - Following a fall from a staircase leading from a loft room at a chalet at a Protea Hotel, a guest tried in vain to sue the for damages.
The chalet is owned by the Gauteng Department of Agriculture and Conservation Environment.
Vernon Morgan fell from the staircase when he walked down from the loft room more than 10 years ago. He rolled down the stairs and bumped his head on a table at the foot end of the staircase.
He instituted a damages claim in the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, against both the department and the Protea Hospitality Group.
Morgan reached a confidential settlement with the hotel group’s insurer, but he forged ahead with his claim against the department.
His claim was earlier dismissed against the department after the court found that the fall was probably caused by a structural defect of which the department had no knowledge.
Morgan, aggrieved with this finding, turned to the court once again in a bid to appeal against that ruling.
Morgan told the court that he had suffered injuries when he tumbled down the wooden stairs in one of the chalets while he was a guest at the hotel. He blamed the accident on both the department and the hotel group and said they had a duty to ensure that their guests were safe.
He claimed that they were negligent by allowing the condition and the state of repair of the staircase and the table at the bottom of the stairs to pose a danger to the guests.
Morgan also complained that there was not a proper handrail for him to hold on to while he descended the stairs, which caused him to knock his head on the coffee table at the bottom.
The department, in its main defence, admitted to having a legal duty to take reasonable care that the premises, including the wooden staircase, were safe for use by resort guests and to have complied with such duty.
But it said that Morgan’s negligence was the sole cause of his fall, since he failed to descend the staircase in a safe and proper manner, and/or holding onto the staircase while descending.
Morgan, in turn, said that if there had been proper handrails fitted to the staircase in question, he would have used them, and he would have been able to control his descent and would have not fallen.
The department said there were “grab rails” fitted to the staircase, and if he’d held on to those, he would not have fallen.
An expert who inspected the staircase testified that there was a structural and design defect to the staircase, causing a weak spot, which could have led to the fall.
He said the defect could only be detected by an expert, not by any ordinary person. Foreseeability, therefore, was out of the question for the person in the department’s position.
The expert told the court that only a structural engineer‘s design review could have indicated if the staircase was indeed safe in terms of the structural defect.
Judge Nomsa Khumalo, on appeal, agreed that the department could be held liable and she turned down Morgan’s bid to appeal against the matter.