Defining RAF judgment: the definition of a motor vehicle and why it matters to one family

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  • The family of a man who lost his life after an accident with a reach stacker can now claim for damages from the Road Accident Fund.
  • The RAF had alleged a reach stacker is not a motor vehicle defined by the RAF act.
  • But the Supreme Court of Appeal dismissed its appeal with costs, saying a reach stacker is a motor vehicle as defined in the act.

The family of a man who was killed after he collided with a reach stacker, a vehicle used for lifting heavy cargo containers, can now claim for damages from the Road Accident Fund (RAF).

This after the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) in Bloemfontein ruled that a reach stacker is a motor vehicle as defined in the Road Accident Fund Act.

The RAF had argued a reach stacker was not a motor vehicle and the family's claim was not competent in terms of the RAF Act, reads the judgment.

But the SCA dismissed the fund's appeal bid with costs this week. 

According to the judgment, Simphiwe Robert Makutoana was hit by a reach stacker in February 2010 at the Multipurpose Terminal in Cape Town Harbour where he was employed as a stevedore. He was a pedestrian at the time of the incident.

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Makutoana died as a result of the injuries he sustained from the collision.

His wife, Thandiswa Mbele, then instituted action for loss of support in the Western Cape High Court against the fund for payment of damages she and her four minor children suffered. Her claim was based on provisions in the RAF Act.

However, the fund disputed liability, alleging that a reach stacker was not a motor vehicle as defined by the act.

The matter appeared before Judge Siraj Desai, who ruled in the fund's favour, saying a reach stacker was not a motor vehicle.

His ruling was later overturned by a full bench in the same court after an appeal. However, the RAF did not take the decision lying down.

It approached the SCA appealing the full bench's decision.

In his ruling, SCA judge Dumisani Zondi said: "In my view, the Reach Stacker under consideration is a motor vehicle as defined in s1 of the RAF Act.

"Despite its imposing and gigantic size in terms of mass (71.8 tons), width (4.15m), length (11.5m), height (4.5m) and speed limitation of 24km/h, objectively viewed, it cannot be said that its driving on a road used by pedestrians and other vehicles would be extraordinarily difficult and hazardous.

"It is fitted with all the controls and features required to be fitted to a motor vehicle so as to enable it to be used with safety on a road outside the container yard and port terminal where it primarily operates."

Judge Zondi also added: "It has a number of features of a motor vehicle mentioned above and is driven in a manner similar to a motor vehicle".

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