26 October 1999
Former Sappi worker says car’s tyres led to crash that left him with brain damage
A former accountant for paper conglomerate Sappi is suing Avis for R3.5 m after he suffered permanent brain damage from an accident he claims resulted from the car rental firm’s negligence.
The road accident happened in March 1995, when Sappi hired a Volkswagen combi from Avis to transport employees to the Argus cycle race in Cape Town.
On the way back to Johannesburg one of the vehicle’s tyres burst near Vanderbijlpark, and the combi overturned.
The accountant, Rudolph de Waal, who took part in the cycle race, suffered severe, irreversible brain damage. De Waal’s lawyers are arguing in the Johannesburg High Court that Avis is negligent because it allowed the vehicle to be driven when the tyres were defective, making it unsafe for the passengers.
De Waal said Avis should not have allowed the vehicle to be driven in an unroadworthy condition and the company “failed to heed the warning which the external appearance of the tyres clearly conveyed”.
De Waal is also claiming that there is negligence on the part of the driver of the vehicle, Franciscus Hansen.
Hansen was employed by Sappi at the time of the accident.
He is also a defendant in the court action because De Waal claims he failed to check the vehicle’s tyres.
De Waal claimed Hansen drove the rental vehicle even though the tyres were a danger to the passengers and that he drove at excessive speed “ in the circumstances.”
In their pleadings before the court, both Hansen and Avis deny the charges. Avis claims that the accident was caused by the overloading of the vehicle for underinflation of the tyres or a combination of the two.
The company cites a clause in its lease agreement with De Waal that says: “Avis shall not be liable for any damage arising out of any defect in or mechanical failure of the vehicle.”
De Waal said that as a result of the accident he suffered total, permanent and irreversible brain damage and has lost all “amenities of life”, which he enjoyed prior to the accident.
He is claiming hospital expenses from Johannesburg General Hospital and Milpark Hospital of about R70 000, as well as R1m in future medical expenses.
De Waal is claiming R 250 000 in loss of earnings and a further R1.87 m in future loss of earnings. A R250 000 claim for pain, suffering, loss of amenities of life, disability and disfigurement has also been instituted.
He has already received R 25 000 from the Multilateral Motor Vehicle Accidents Fund, which will be deducted from any payment ordered by the court.
Lawyers acting for Avis said the correct interpretation of the lease agreement was that the company was “absolved of liability for any damage arising out of any defect or mechanical failure” of the vehicle.
They said Avis was not liable for any damage sustained by De Waal arising from allegedly defective tyres or from any other problems with the rental car.
The case is being heard by Judge Percy Blieden and is expected to be finalized before the end of the week.