This blog was co-authored by: Maano Manavhela, Candidate Attorney
In this case, the claimant sustained severe bodily injuries when he stepped onto a powdery substance with his left foot and slipped and fell down the stairs leading to the ground floor of the defendant’s factory. The incident happened at his workplace but he was not employed by the defendant. The plaintiff alleged that a powdery substance emanated from electrical cables that the defendant’s employees burnt to remove the external plastic isolation from the inner copper cabling. The defendant denied this allegation and pleaded that the plaintiff orchestrated his fall to benefit therefrom.
After both parties led witnesses, the court had to determine whether there is a legal duty that rests on companies to prevent damage from materialising.
The court found that the incident did in fact occur. The defendant was held liable because one of its employees acted on instructions when he burnt the electric cables which resulted in the powdery substance ending up on the stairs, which he noticed but did not clean. Secondly the employees did not put out any warning signs next to the area with powdery substance and created a secondary hazard situation by hanging a polyester sheet which prevented the claimant from grabbing the railings when he fell. The court held that there lay a legal duty upon the defendant to prevent the damage from materialising.
The court then turned to the issue of contributory negligence as the plaintiff had seen the powdery substance about a week before, and therefore he was aware of its presence but continued to use the stairs. In light of this, the court determined that the plaintiff was 20% negligent by not taking the required precaution.
This judgment is a reminder that in circumstances where there are reasonable steps available to a defendant to prevent foreseeable harm on its premises, the defendant is obliged to take such steps because the failure to will render the defendant liable.