Family of motorcyclist who killed himself two years after accident loses case against RAF

The Western Cape High Court ruled that the Road Accident Fund is not liable to cover the loss of income for the family of a motorcyclist who committed suicide after an accident.
The Western Cape High Court ruled that the Road Accident Fund is not liable to cover the loss of income for the family of a motorcyclist who committed suicide after an accident.
PHOTO: Jenni Evans/News24
  • The Western Cape High Court has dismissed a claim against the RAF.
  • The claim centred around whether a motorcyclist had taken his own life owing to injuries sustained in an accident.
  • The motorcyclist's family claimed for a loss of income due to his death.

The Western Cape High Court has ruled that the Road Accident Fund (RAF) is not liable to cover the loss of income for the family of a motorcyclist, who took his own life two years after an accident.

The judgment withheld the names of the motorcyclist and his family.

He was injured in a collision in 2014. A claim was lodged with the RAF, which was still being finalised two years after the accident, at the time of his death in 2016.

Two years after his suicide, the man's wife approached the RAF with a second claim.

She claimed that the injuries sustained by her husband in the accident had caused his suicide, resulting in the loss of income for her and her two children.

READ ON HEALTH24 | Men's mental health in focus: An expert tells us what's needed for the situation to improve in SA

The court looked to determine whether, had it not been for the orthopaedic injuries sustained during the accident, the man would have taken his own life.

Testimony given indicated that, after the accident, the motorcyclist's mood was low at times and that he appeared despondent, especially when his "permanent injuries" prevented his full-time employment. However, he had not been diagnosed with or treated for depression.

Testimony included that of experts, who said the man had been depressed as a result of the loss of his mobility, despite the lack of diagnosis. After the accident, he was unable to run his business as before, he was left physically impaired and suffering permanent injury, the court heard.

However, the court found that there was not enough evidence to show that the injuries sustained in the accident had affected the motorcyclist’s mental health.

'Chain of causation'

Judge Constance Noluthando Nziweni said causation could be proven from either direct or circumstantial evidence.

Nziweni said:

However, the issue of causation cannot be left to speculation. There can be no question that there should be evidentiary support for the facts upon which the plaintiff relies to establish causation.

The plaintiff was expected to link the "negligent act to the deceased’s suicide, in order to complete the chain of causation".

It needed to be proven that the injury sustained by the deceased triggered a mental condition and that the mental condition caused the deceased to act irrationally, with uncontrollable impulse, Nziweni said.

"In other words, it must be proven that the suicide is a direct result of the psychiatric condition."

The link between the negligent act, the mental disorder, and the suicide should be established on a balance of probabilities, Nziweni said.

"It is not adequate to simply claim that the deceased, before he took his own life, suffered from a mental disorder and that the disorder caused the suicide. There should be evidence which shows that a close connection exists between the negligent act and its factual consequences."

Nziweni concluded that she could not find that the plaintiff had established the causal connection between the accident and the suicide.

Both parties were ordered to pay their own costs, and the claim was dismissed on Thursday. 

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues, you can contact:

The South African Depression and Anxiety Group's (Sadag) 24-hour mental health helpline: 0800 456 789

Sadag has a WhatsApp counselling line that operates from 09:00 to 16:00: 076 882 2775

SA Federation for Mental Health: 011 781 1852

LifeLine South Africa: 0861 322 322

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