This blog was co-authored by: Bwanika Lwanga, Candidate Attorney

Recently the Supreme Court of Appeal in Rautini v Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Case no.
853/2020) [2021] ZASCA 158 (8 November 2021) reaffirmed the general rule regarding the drawing of inferences. A court may only draw inferences that are consistent with all the proven facts. Where one or more inferences are possible the court must satisfy itself that the inference sought to be drawn is the most probable inference.

The defendant had sought to dispute the plaintiff’s version that he had been pushed from a train resulting in his injuries. The defendant relied on the contents on the plaintiff’s medical records and cross-examination of the plaintiff.

The hospital records had been discovered and the parties had agreed that the documents were what they purported to be but the correctness of the contents were not admitted.

The court said that the contents of the hospital records and medical notes were hearsay evidence and that hearsay evidence is on the face of it inadmissible absent an application for the hearsay evidence to be admitted.

Discovery of the records does not make them admissible as evidence unless the documents can be admitted under one or other of the common law exceptions to the hearsay rule.

There was not any basis to admit the hospital records as evidence and the court was not entitled to rely on that hearsay evidence.

The plaintiff was also never cross-examined on what he had told the responding medical personnel regarding the cause of the fall.  It was never put in cross-examination to the plaintiff that he deliberately jumped from the train.

The plaintiff was successful on appeal, the court finding that it had been established that he was pushed from the train through open doors of the carriage and that the defendant’s failure to keep the doors closed while the train was in motion constituted negligence and attracted liability.