This blog was co-authored by: Adrienne Cloete, Candidate Attorney.

The hosting school hosted a rugby tournament. During a match with a visiting school the claimant (Izak), playing for the visiting school team suffered a neck injury after being tackled by a player from the opposing team. The player was carried off the field by two first aid personnel who failed to stabilise his neck with a spine board or neck brace and as a result he suffered a second injury which rendered him permanently paralysed.

Izak and his father sued the MEC for Education, North West for the damages that Izak suffered as a result of his second injury. All the experts agreed that Izak’s second injury was caused by the failure of the first aid providers appointed by the hosting school to immobilise his neck properly when he was carried off the field.  

The Supreme Court of Appeal held that the state is liable for any delictual or contractual damage or loss caused as a result of any act or omission in connection with any school activity conducted by a public school and for which such public school would have been liable but for the provisions of this section 60 of the Schools Act of 1996. The hosting school fell under section 60.

In dealing with the requirement that the damage or loss had to be in connection “any school activity” the court held that the rugby game was ‘an activity in connection with an educational activity’ as defined in the Schools Act and the hosting school, its teachers and sports coaches have a responsibility for their learners in their care in place of the parents (in loco parentis) and have a duty to guard them against harm.

In considering whether the hosting school was negligent, the court found that the hosting school should have foreseen that the improper treatment of a neck injury could lead to a spinal injury. It was incumbent upon the hosting school to act reasonably in ensuring that first aid personnel were appropriately qualified and competent in dealing with neck injuries. Rugby is a dangerous contact sport, and any reasonable person would have foreseen the resulting harm in question. Izak, it was recorded, stated no less than three times that he should not be carried off the field without a spine board and that he could not feel his legs. At the time of his first injury, he was unable to keep his head still. The first aid personnel carried him off the field without the requisite equipment and he never walked again.

The hosting school explained that it had engaged the first aid providers because they were well known in the area, had previously provided first aid services to other nearby schools, and there had been no previous complaints about them. The hosting school was negligent in this regard for appointing the first aid providers merely on this basis. The hosting school should have made further enquiries into the competence and qualifications of the first aid providers because, if it had, it would found that that they lacked the prescribed qualifications. On the day of the incident, the first aid providers also lacked sufficient equipment as they only had one spine board available across all three sports disciplines at the tournament.

The court held that the steps taken by the hosting school in preparing for the tournament were unreasonable and Izak’s injury was foreseeable and preventable.   The State was liable for the resulting damages.

The MEC for Education, North West Province v Izak Boshoff Foster and Others [2023] ZASCA 11