In Nsibande v Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa, the plaintiff sought damages for personal injuries sustained from allegedly falling off a moving train. The defendant denied liability, stating that the train doors were checked and found to be in working order, and that the doors were closed at the time of the alleged incident. The plaintiff testified that he was pushed from the moving train by unknown commuters while he was approaching the train doors and getting ready to disembark, causing him to fall and sustain serious injuries to his shoulder and hand. He further alleged that while he had a valid train ticket, it was lost during the incident and that after falling from the train he went to a nearby BP garage, were he met a neighbour who provided assistance.

The court had to determine whether the plaintiff suffered damages as a result of being pushed out of a moving train or because the train was crowded, either of which would have established causation on the part of the defendant. The defendant presented evidence that the train is thoroughly checked for any faults before collecting commuters, and that the train assistants use a computerised system to ensure the train doors are shut before the train moves. The defendant also stated that while the train is in motion, the doors remain shut and there is no way they could be opened unless there was foul play.

With regards to factual causation, which is whether the defendant’s conduct or omission was factually the direct cause of the injuries suffered by the plaintiff, the defendant argued that the plaintiff had failed to demonstrate that he was at the train station at the time of the incident by producing a train ticket and/or filling an incident report immediately or a couple of days after the incident. The plaintiff admitted that he had the opportunity to file the incident with the defendant’s but failed to do so.

The court held that the plaintiff failed to discharge his onus of proof and had failed to establish factual causation. Consequently, the defendant was not liable for the plaintiff’s injuries. The court reiterated that the legal duty of the defendant to its passengers is well-established, and the elements of wrongfulness, negligence, as well as factual and legal causation must be established for liability to be imputed.

The requirement to prove factual causation cannot be understated, especially with personal injury claims. It is not enough to show that one suffered injury at a location controlled by a defendant (which arguably the Plaintiff could not do in this case either). There must also be evidence to show that the injury occurred because of the act or omission (which in turn requires a duty to have taken action) of the defendant. Careful consideration of this evidence – or the lack thereof – must occur when bringing or defending a personal injury claim.