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Article by listed attorney: Fawzia Khan

The recent tragedy involving the collapse of the building under construction in Tongaat sent shockwaves across the nation and also made international news. The death of at least one person and the injuries sustained by many workers on the site, has sparked outrage from many quarters in South Africa, including Cabinet, who are demanding a full investigation into the incident.

What rights does a person have and who does one sue if he or she is injured under such circumstances? Those injured workers who were registered would be able to claim compensation through Workmen’s Compensation as set out in the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act, 1993. In terms of common law, a person can claim damages for injuries sustained as a result of the negligence of another.

In the case of Brown and Another v Pienaar & 3 Others, the plaintiffs were enjoying a social visit at the home of the defendant who was also owner. They were standing on the balcony of the defendant’s home which collapsed causing them to suffer serious injuries. They sued the owner of the flat, the building contractor in his personal capacity and business entity as well as supplier of the steel works, for the construction of the balcony. The plaintiffs claimed that the collapse of the balcony was caused by the negligence of the owner and/or the building contractor and /or the steel works supplier, on basis that no structural engineer was appointed. This, despite being advised by the local Planning Department that the plans were refused primarily because no plans by a structural engineer were submitted. They also claimed that the defendants failed to act with due care, that the balcony was constructed without regard for its structural integrity, making it unsafe, and that it was constructed in an unprofessional and unworkmanlike manner.

The court found all the defendants i.e. the owner, the building contractor and supplier of the steel works to be jointly and severally liable for causing the injuries of the plaintiffs. The court said that the contractor was not allowed to endanger lives by succumbing to the pressure from the employer to bypass the requisite prescripts. The building contractor and supplier of steel works were not allowed to escape liability or claim indemnity on the basis that they were acting on the instructions of the owner, as they were the experts.  

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