Landlord held liable for family tragedy during Groot Marico flood
Pretoria - What started as a family summer vacation ended in tragedy for a family when they had to battle torrents on the banks of the Groot Marico River in the North West and lost their toddler son as a result.
Daniel Black and his wife Belinda have instituted a more than R850 000 damages claim against the owners of the cottage where they were holidaying at the time.
They claimed that Tino and Anette Erasmus were negligent in not ensuring their safety in the chalet which they had stayed in while on holiday in December 2010.
Their son Erich, who was nearly 3, was swept away by the floods.
The case came before the North West Division of the High Court, which ordered that Erasmus, as owner of the chalet, was liable for the damages which the Blacks, who now live in Britain, could prove they had suffered.
The Erasmuses had three chalets on their farm which they rented out to holidaymakers. The Blacks stayed in the Kingfisher cottage next to the river.
Heavy rain fell in the catchment areas of the Groot Marico River on the evening of the incident, leading to the river bursting its banks.
Awoken to rising levels of water, the family scrambled to vacate the chalet. It was in this time that Erich got swept away by the flood. His body was found the next morning by a search team.
The court was told that when the family arrived at the farm the weather was pleasant. That night heavy rains began to fall and there was a power outage. Belinda testified that at some point during the next day the rain stopped and they were able to take a walk outside and returned when it started raining again.
Around midnight she woke up and realised that there was water in the room. She woke her husband and they went into the room where one of their sons was sleeping.
They found that it was already flooded, with books that were on the bedside table soaked. By that time the paraffin lamp that they were using to see with went out because of the water.
The family then tried to evacuate the chalet via the door on the opposite side of the river. The court was told that they struggled for several hours to get out of the chalet to safety because the water prevented them from leaving.
The mother held on to her 19-month-old daughter but the current was so strong that despite their efforts, they were not able to save their son, as he was swept away by the water.
Help only arrived the next morning.
The owners denied liability and said what happened that night was a freak of nature and was not foreseeable. They said that while they were sympathetic to the plaintiffs for the loss of their son and other assets, they were not liable as there was a sign at the entrance to the farm that guests occupied the chalets at their own risk.
Judge M Z Makoti said no evidence existed to show that the family were made aware of the disclaimer notices. Belinda testified that they were only told to be careful while crossing the low-water bridge, nothing more.
The judge found that Tino Erasmus, as owner of the property, was liable for the damages as the cottage was built too close to the river and he had a duty to ensure the safety of his guests.