Judge finds for drunk’s wife, despite kids’ death

2008-09-11 00:00

A Pietermaritzburg High Court judge has found police negligent for failing to ensure adequate medical attention was given to motorist Andre Craig, who caused the death of two children in a collision on the N3 in 2003, and ruled that his widow, Loraine Craig, and children are liable to be compensated by the national Safety and Security minister.

Judge Piet Koen’s finding at this stage relates only to the question of liability. The amount to which the family is entitled will be dealt with in due course.

Loraine Craig initially instituted a claim against Safety and Security Minister Charles Nqakula, the charge office commander of Hammarsdale police station and police officer Musawakhe Morris Mwandla for R1 361 800 on behalf of herself and her three children.

In her evidence before Judge Koen earlier this year, she testified that she and family members of her late husband “begged and pleaded” with police to allow her late husband to seek medical help, after they denied him bail — but to no avail. She claimed he had complained of chest pains, vomited blood and at one stage “curled up in pain” on the floor.

Andre Craig died in Grey’s Hospital on July 20, 2003, having been taken there some 16 hours after his detention in connection with the accident the previous night.

The court heard evidence that he was under the influence of alcohol at the time and was travelling on the wrong side of the highway when his Toyota Corolla collided head on with a BMW at about 9.30 pm on July 19, 2003. Two children, aged seven and nine, burnt to death in the vehicle.

His blood alcohol level was found to be 0,25 grams per 100 ml of blood. The legal limit is 0,05 grams.

In his judgment, Koen said any detainee “even one who has caused the death of two innocent children due to reckless driving whilst in an inebriated state, or who abuses alcohol and squanders his income on alcohol rather than the proper support of his family, has the right to reasonable and proper medical care.”

He said it was not necessary for the police to have foreseen his eventual cause of death. “It is sufficient that there was a negligent breach of a duty of facilitating the deceased’s right to proper medical attention. Had this right been extended to the deceased during the early hours of that morning, the deceased’s life probably could have been saved,” he said.

The judge accepted evidence by district surgeon Dr Richard Thompson that he had cautioned police after examining Andre Craig on the night in question to ensure that he was taken to hospital for further examination, even though, he said, Thompson did “not impress” him as a witness.

Loraine Craig told The Witness that the case had been extremely “painful” for her to pursue, but said she had done so in the interests of her children.

“The case has given me some closure,” she said, adding that questions about her husband’s death have now been answered.

“I’m very sad about the accident and what happened. I feel he (her husband) was responsible for the deaths. It is hard to lose a child. … I also suffered a loss, “she said.

She said the family requires counselling to come to terms with her late husband’s death, but has not been able to afford it.

She said Andre Craig, an electrical engineer, was the breadwinner of the family and that while he was alive they were “well off”. Since he died life has been hard and she supported herself and her children through a small state grant and domestic work she does for other members of her family.


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