Pretoria - The Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Ronald Lamola, is being held vicariously liable for the damages suffered by a prison official who was viciously attacked by a colleague’s three dogs.
A German shepherd/police dog called Tiger; a mixed-breed type of an Alsatian called Sissy; and a small-sized dog with no name; attacked Karl Kitcher, a section head at the Douglas Correctional Centre in the Northern Cape.
The dogs belonged to one of his colleagues, Mompati Sebogo, a call centre clerk at the prison.
The two men lived on the prison premises and in the same street, with their families.
Kitcher earlier told the Northern Cape High Court that he was on his way to report for night duty, when the three dogs attacked him as he walked down the street.
The three dogs stormed at him shortly before midnight. He tried to calm them down but Tiger and Sissy mauled his upper leg and arm. In an attempt to escape he fell and broke both his wrists, he said.
He, however, managed to keep on walking for a while which caused the dogs to retreat. He was later hospitalised and was off duty for a a month following the attack.
The prison manager instructed Sebogo that morning to remove his dogs from the premises. The dogs were later put down.
Kitcher meanwhile instituted a R1 799 832.77 in damages claim against both the minister and the owner of the dogs. He held the minister vicariously liable, as employer of Sebogo, as the latter had been warned in the past to control his dogs.
He also blamed the dogs’ owner for the attack, as Kitcher said Sebogo was negligent in not ensuring that his trouble making dogs did not escape from his yard.
The court initially ordered that both had to foot the bill for Kitcher’s damages. The issue of how much he should be awarded, was postponed to a later date.
The minister meanwhile took the matter on appeal as his legal team said he could not be held responsible for the actions of the dogs.
It was found that the minister was vicariously liable for the damages, as head of correctional services and thus the employer of Sebogo.
The reason for this is that it was not the first time that the dogs had attacked someone within the prison family compound. The head of the prison on an earlier occasion wrote a letter to Sebogo, in which he was asked to contain his dogs.
It was argued that the minister (through his officials) ought to have compelled Sebogo to confine his dogs to his yard or dispose of them; and to have exercised sufficient control over them.
Kitcher testified that Sebogo’s gate was not always kept closed which sometimes allowed the dogs free rein in the street. The prison head sent a letter to Sebogo a year before this incident, in which he was asked to control his dogs or get rid of them.
A few months down the line, they attacked the child of another family who lived on the premises. Sebogo and that family, however, came to an amicable arrangement about the situation.
The court found that the minister, through his functionaries, was aware that the dogs were a menace and that he had to exercise control over the dogs that belonged to one of his employees and to prevent them from attacking and injuring another person.