The Supreme Court of Appeal held in June 2023 that a forklift is not a motor vehicle as defined in the Road Accident Fund Act of 1996 which defines a ‘motor vehicle’ as “any vehicle designed or adopted for propulsion or haulage on a road by means of fuel, gas or electricity …”.

The three requirements to be met to qualify as a motor vehicle therefore are that the vehicle must (a) be propelled by fuel, gas or electricity; (b) be designed for propulsion; (c) on a road.

The accident happened in the receiving area of a supermarket store where the plaintiff worked. The forklift was propelled by means of a battery and diesel fuel and was used to transport goods in and out of the store particularly at their receiving area of the premises. A “road” under the RAF Act is not limited to a public road. The question is whether the forklift in question was designed for or adapted for propulsion or haulage on a road. The ordinary meaning of a road was taken from the dictionary as ‘a wide way leading from one place to another, especially one with a specially prepared surface which vehicles can use’. The court found that the forklift was not used on a road but was used in and out of the warehouse in the yard. The receiving area was a private area and not a road. It was only used to receive and load goods and not used by the general public. Therefore the forklift did not qualify to be classified as a motor vehicle for the purposes of the RAF.

This poor judgment is not very helpful because it does not discuss the distinction between a road and a public road nor what happens if a forklift is used for purposes on a road as described. Over and above its implications for the RAF Act, it is however a reminder that insurers who insure motor vehicles must be clear in their definitions as to what will be covered.

Menangwele v Road Accident Fund [2023] ZASCA 90 (8 June 2023)