The Supreme Court of Appeal held that an executive employee who was injured whilst at work when she became caught up with trade union protestors and was assaulted and mistreated by them and evicted in a humiliating and degrading way, was involved in an accident in the course of, but not arising out of, her employment, with no claim under the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act, 1993.

The employee was physically injured in the form of bruises, scratches and a swollen foot and more importantly was shocked and humiliated and suffered psychiatric injury (which is no different from physical injury for COIDA purposes).  She was left with post-traumatic stress disorder of significant intensity and resigned from her employment.

In COIDA, the fact that there are separate definitions of ‘occupational disease’ and ‘occupational injury’ shows that the word ‘occupational’ qualifies both injury and disease in section 35 and injury includes personal injury sustained as the result of an accident.  An accident is an unlooked-for mishap or untoward event not expected or designed.  Formulating a single test to determine whether an injury arises out of the injured party’s employment is neither feasible nor desirable.

The parties accepted that because the event happened at the claimant’s place of employment and while she was going about her duties it arose in the course of her employment.  The question was whether it arose out of her employment, in order words whether it was sufficiently closely connected with her employment to have arisen out of it.  The court held that, on the facts, the only connection between the incident and the claimant’s employment was that she was at work at the time.  The incident bore no relation to her duties.  She was no assaulted because of the position she held, or because of anything she had done in carrying out her duties, or for any reason related to the protest that took place on that day.  She was assaulted because one individual mistakenly thought she had sworn at him and he, together with others, responded by assaulting and humiliating her.  The court found that her injuries did not arise out of her employment.

This is an extraordinary conclusion in the circumstances which most people would find mystifying but coming, as it does, from the Supreme Court of Appeal it will have to be accepted as the law unless it is overturned.

Churchill v Premier, Mpumalanga [2021] ZASCA 16 (4 March 2021)