Pretoria - A police officer who was injured 24 years ago while on duty is due to receive some compensation following a legal fight with the Compensation Commissioner.
He had been a passenger in a police vehicle that collided with a minibus taxi while chasing a suspect.
The problem arose as Roebel Botha was injured before the car accident; he suffered a neck injury while training for the SAPS specialised reaction force.
The consequences of that injury were severe and he was diagnosed as having had a spinal stroke and later underwent a spinal fusion. Less than three months later the collision occurred and he ended up needing a second spinal fusion operation.
The Compensation Commissioner refused to award compensation for the car accident in terms of the Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act on the grounds he had a pre-existing condition.
Botha then turned to the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, which then set aside the decision of the commissioner.
The court declared Botha was 60% permanently disabled and ordered the commissioner at the time to calculate how much was owed to him, taking the 60% into consideration.
The matter then turned to the Supreme Court of Appeal as Botha argued the high court erred in determining he was 60% permanently disabled. According to him, he was 100% permanently disabled.
The Compensation Commissioner also appealed the high court’s order and argued Botha had failed to prove on a balance of probabilities the cause of his permanent disablement was the injury he sustained on duty and whether a causal link has been established; to what extent the pre-existing injury contributed to his permanent disablement.
In the Supreme Court judgment, Judge Caroline Nicholls said the act was introduced as social legislation to provide for compensation for disablement or death caused by occupational injuries or diseases sustained or contracted by employees in the course of their employment.
It is a system of no-fault compensation which relieves the employee of having to prove negligence, simultaneously relieving the employer on payment of contributions to the Compensation Fund, of the eventuality of an expensive damages claim.
The judge said the act had “a significant impact on the sensitive and intricate relationship among employers, employees and society at large”.
The central issue in this appeal was whether there was a causal connection between the accident that occurred while Botha was on duty and the permanent disability he now suffered.
The Supreme Court evaluated the whiplash injury and muscle spasms he had suffered during the car accident and the neck injury he suffered while training for the SAPS specialised reaction force. The consequences of the accident were severe and he was at the time diagnosed as having had a spinal stroke.
In November 1997, he underwent his first spinal fusion. Less than three months later, the vehicle collision, the subject of this claim, occurred.
A doctor found Botha was permanently unfit for work and his condition would progressively deteriorate. The issue was not loss of movement but loss of strength.
Despite this and contrary to the findings in the medical reports, the commissioner refused an award for compensation. Judge Nicholls said this was wrong.
She said there was no option but for the commissioner to obtain further medical reports, detailing the extent to which the pre-existing injuries were the cause of Botha’s permanent disablement.
She said the tribunal should bear in mind that employees should be assisted as far as possible and any interpretation should be to the benefit of the employee.
As Botha was injured 24 years ago, she gave the tribunal six months to calculate what Botha was owed.
“The delays in finalising his claim are unreasonable, egregious and unexplained,” she said.