Pretoria - Potholes remain an increasing problem on the country’s roads, but motorists can hold local authorities accountable for injuries or damages caused by these obstacles.
However, they will have to prove their case, as a motorcyclist who was severely injured when he hit a pothole discovered.
Jaco Schlebush turned to the Mpumalanga High Court, sitting in Mbombela, to claim millions from that province’s Public Works, Roads and Transport MEC for general damages and loss of income.
He said he could no longer perform his job as a motorbike mechanic as he did before.
In May 2020 the motorbike he was riding hit a pothole on the R40. In the accident his protective clothing was damaged and he was injured. He was treated at the Nelspruit Medi Clinic.
Schlebush argued that the MEC was responsible for the road infrastructure, maintenance and the erection of appropriate road signs within the province. He said it was the duty of the MEC, in his official capacity, to warn road users of prevailing dangerous conditions on the road.
Notwithstanding the issuing and service of the summons on the MEC, the matter remained undefended when it served before court.
Schlebush sustained several fractures in the accident and was in ICU for weeks. He is still receiving treatment.
Schlebush, 40, testified that he was part of a group of bikers travelling down Bulembu Pass on the R40 in Barberton. While descending the second-last sharp bend to the left, he leaned into the corner as his motorbike hit a pothole.
He lost control of the motorbike, which skidded across the road.
He could not avoid the pothole as he was travelling on the left side of the road, he said. The sharp left turn concealed the dangerous area where the pothole was located.
Schlebush complained that there were no signs warning motorists of the danger on the road ahead.
He testified that almost a month before the hearing of this case, he had accompanied other travellers by car along the same route and observed that the pothole that had caused his accident had grown wider and could pose even more serious danger to other road users.
He said the pothole was not all that long, but it was about 50mm deep and about two metres wide, stretching from the left side of the road towards the centre.
There was another wide pothole in the area, which he managed to dodge, but the front tyre of the motorbike slid after hitting the first pothole.
It then hit the second narrower but deeper pothole, which caused him to fall off his motorbike.
An expert on road surfaces testified that Schlebush could not have done anything in the circumstances to avoid the pothole.
According to the expert, the MEC was negligent and should be held liable for the injuries Schlebush suffered as well as the damage to his motorbike and protective clothing.
Judge BA Mashile found that as the MEC did not oppose the claim, Schlebush’s evidence on the circumstances of the accident had to be accepted.
He found that the MEC’s failure to live up to the responsibility of assuring the road did not pose a danger to motorists amounted to negligence.
The judge commented that the MEC’s lack of response to the summons was “exceedingly disheartening, especially because any award of the amount claimed that might be made, will have to come out of the public purse”.
Schlebush claimed R1.5 million for general damages, but the judge ordered the provincial government to pay him R550 000.
The judge said under the circumstances he deemed the amount fair.
He rejected Schlebush’s claims for loss of earnings as this was not proved.