Workers awarded damages after hospital hostage trauma

Published Jun 10, 2024


Two workers at a hospital, who were kept hostage by a mentally ill patient, who came running into the hospital wielding a firearm and demanding to see a doctor, will each receive damages after the Durban High Court ruled in their favour.

A now former attorney, Nkosinathi Mngoma, was ordered to pay the damages to the two after default judgment was earlier granted against him when he failed to defend the actions brought against him by the plaintiffs for professional negligence.

The court was told that in April 2012 a mentally ill man armed with a firearm entered the Westville Life Hospital and demanded to see a doctor. Mayhem ensued and the gunman ended up in a small office with four hostages.

The plaintiffs – Khulile Mngadi and Khonani Nyawose – employed at at the hospital as hostesses the time, were two of those hostages. Their duties included being responsible for seeing that the patients’ dietary requirements were being catered for.

The gunman demanded that the hostages lie on the ground. He thereafter fired a shot into the floor and the ricochet or shrapnel from the bullet struck Mngadi. She was injured in the buttock and foot.

She was told to sit in a chair and pretend she was typing. She was then told to call a number by the gunman and when the call was unsuccessful she was shot in the arm at close range. Fortunately, the bullet went through the fleshy part of the arm without causing any damage to any bones. Shortly after this the gunman released the second plaintiff.

The other hostages were released over a period of time until only the first plaintiff remained in the custody of the gunman.

Around midday, while the the gunman was holding a gun to the first plaintiff’s body, a police sniper shot him in the head. He collapsed and died and police rescued the hostage.

They sought to sue the Westville Hospital and approached the defendant in his capacity as an attorney and instructed him to institute legal action against the hospital. The defendant failed to deliver the summons and the plaintiffs’ claims prescribed.

Aggrieved, they instituted claims against the defendant for professional negligence. The defendant failed to defend the claims and had been absent from these proceedings all along.

Both plaintiffs subsequently claimed the damages that they would have been able to claim from Westville Hospital, being general damages for pain and suffering, emotional shock and stress amounting to the sum of R700 000, future medical treatment in the form of psychotherapy for general anxiety disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder in the amount of R56 000 and R71 000 for psychiatric care and related in-hospital treatment.

Both plaintiffs testified about their ordeal and the impact it has had upon their lives.

A clinical psychologist examined both plaintiffs and compiled reports.

The court said that the plaintiffs had to endure a harrowing ordeal is without doubt true. “Being held hostage by a mentally unstable person armed with a gun must be truly terrifying circumstances. The first plaintiff was shot at point-blank range after already being wounded by the ricochet of another bullet. She told the court that she thought she would be killed. She anticipated dying and this has had a profound psychological effect on her,” the court said.

The second plaintiff was equally traumatised. She bears a deep resentment towards the hospital who she felt placed them in great danger, the court was told.

It was decided that R325 000 should be paid to Mngadi in respect of general damages for emotional shock and trauma and a further R127 000 For future medical expenses.

Nyawose is due to receive R210 000 for her trauma as well as R127 000 for future medical expenses.

These amounts will come from the pocket of their former attorney as he omitted to act in their cases.

Pretoria News

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