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No compensation for man injured trying to assist patron in wheelchair at Moth Club

The Supreme Court of Appeal has ruled that a Moth Club cannot be held accountable for a man’s injuries while trying to assist a man in a wheelchair. Picture: File.

The Supreme Court of Appeal has ruled that a Moth Club cannot be held accountable for a man’s injuries while trying to assist a man in a wheelchair. Picture: File.

Published Jun 28, 2022


Pretoria - An evening out to a pub in Johannesburg ended badly for a patron who tried to assist a man in a wheelchair down the stairs.

The Good Samaritan ended up with the man and the wheelchair, which weighed 120kg, on top of him.

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Kenneth Els, who injured himself as he tried to assist fellow patron Pat Levengs, sued the well-known Moth Club for the damages he had suffered.

Earlier, the high court sitting in Johannesburg ordered that the club was responsible for 90% of Els’s damages. The club took the ruling on appeal and three judges confirmed that it was liable.

However, it was third time lucky for the club. The Supreme Court of Appeal has ruled that the club cannot be held accountable for Els’s injuries.

Moth is a voluntary association and brotherhood of former South African soldiers. It occupies the basement area of a two-storey building and uses it as a pub for recreational gatherings of its members and the public. This historic club opened its doors in November 1955.

Els frequented the pub and often assisted Levengs when he left to reach the parking area.

To exit the basement, there is a two-step stairway directly outside. The route, from the pub on the basement level to the parking area on the ground level, is at the centre of this dispute.

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Levengs often sought assistance from fellow patrons to help him get from the pub to the parking lot.

Els testified that on the day of the incident, he was at the club with a client when Levengs called from outside the pub to help him up the flight of two stairs en route to the car park.

Els went to assist and found Levengs with two other patrons who were trying to help him. According to his evidence, he had assisted Levengs to exit the pub before, but had used another route. This was his first attempt at the staircase.

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On arrival, he observed that the wheelchair and Levengs were jammed between the step and the outer wall.

Els deduced that it was impossible to turn the wheelchair because of the lack of space and probably because of his weight too, it was jammed. The only reasonable way to end the problem was to continue with the manoeuvre of what they were trying to do – walk this wheelchair up the steps to get to the top of the stormwater drain.

He said he did not know what happened next, but he believed he had lost his balance. He ended up falling on his back and losing consciousness, with Levengs and his wheelchair on top of him.

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He blamed the club for the accident and the subsequent injuries he had suffered. He said that if there was a second handrail adjacent to the staircase, that would not have happened.

According to Els, there should have also been a ramp, to accommodate people in wheelchairs. It had emerged that the club did, in the meantime, build a ramp.

In coming to the aid of the club, Judge Wendy Hughes, on appeal, said it appeared that the wheelchair was stuck and in an attempt by the group to free it, Els lost his balance while his foot was jammed. This resulted in him falling backwards with the 120kg wheelchair on top of him.

In upholding the appeal, the judge said that even if Els had been able to grab onto a handrail, the force of 120kg falling onto him from above, would have broken his grip – and he would have fallen and injured himself despite it being present.

Pretoria News