Pothole payout victory

2012-12-06 00:00

KWAZULU-NATAL residents will have to pay for damages arising from the province’s failure to repair a pothole that caused an accident.

The amount to be paid has yet to be decided.

Retired KZN Judge Jan Combrink handed down a reserved judgment in the high court in Pietermaritzburg yesterday, ruling that the premier and transport MEC were liable to compensate Tugela Ferry widow Hluphile Elda Zuma (53), who lost part of her left hand in an accident caused by a pothole in December 2004.

The court accepted evidence that the pothole on the R33 was nine metres long, 2,5 metres wide and about 25 centimetres deep, compelling motorists to drive into the oncoming lane to avoid it.

The road links Pietermaritzburg, Greytown, Tugela Ferry, Pomeroy, Dundee and Vryheid, and leads to the historical battlefields in KZN.

The judge ruled that the driver of the taxi in which Zuma was travelling, Zamani Langa, was also negligent for failing to slow down while approaching the pothole.

However, he said, Zuma had chosen to sue only the premier and transport department, and they would have to pay her damages in full.

The authorities could thereafter look to Langa for 30% of the total amount, as the court found that he was 30% at fault and the province 70%.

Zuma was dumbfounded when contacted by The Witness, as she had not yet heard the news. She said she could hardly believe it was true.

The premier’s spokesperson, Ndabezinhle Sibiya, said it was too soon to comment on the judgment.

According to Langa’s evidence, he knew about the pothole; it had been there for about a year.

As he approached it, he had moved to the opposite side of the road to avoid it.

A bakkie emerged from around a bend in front at great speed, and he was forced to return to his side of the road and hit the pothole.

His taxi’s steering was affected and the vehicle smashed into a rock face and overturned.

The judge found suggestions that there were insufficient funds to repair the pothole “cynical to say the least”, in light of the fact that an upgrade of a little-used tarred road leading to the farm of former premier Sbu Ndebele at Albert Falls had been carried out in the 2004/2005 financial year at a cost of over R700 000.

During the same year, the Transport Department spent R218 000 on “gifts and donations”.

The judge said the department had appointed a contractor to repair potholes — including the pothole in question — and it was not suggested that the money for the required work was insufficient for the job.

“Accordingly, the funds were available for the necessary repair of the pothole in question, as well as the other defects in the relevant section of the road,” he found.

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