Pit toilet death: No monetary compensation can make up for the loss experienced, court says

Michael Komape. (File, Netwerk24)
Michael Komape. (File, Netwerk24)

No monetary compensation can ever make up for the loss experienced by the family of Michael Komape, who died when a pit toilet in Limpopo collapsed while he was using it, the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) said in its ruling on Wednesday.

The court awarded the Komape family R1.4m in damages for emotional shock and grief.

Michael's parents were awarded R350 000 each, their two older children received R200 000 each, and the three youngest R100 000 each.

The youngest children were also awarded R6 000 each for future medical treatment.

Michael drowned while using a pit toilet at Mahlodumela Primary School in Seshego in 2014.

In 2018, the Limpopo High Court in Polokwane dismissed claims by his family who were seeking damages from the government for grief caused by his death.

READ MORE | Pit toilet death: Michael Komape case heads to Supreme Court of Appeal

Judge Gerrit Muller ordered two of Michael's siblings should be paid R6 000 each for medical expenses.

The family appealed sections of the high court judgment, which dismissed some of their claims.

The claim was for emotional shock and trauma as well as R2m in damages for grief, alternatively constitutional damages. 

However, in the judgment penned by Justice Eric Leach, the SCA said the "terrible circumstances of Michael's death haunted his parents".

Justice Leach said the case cried out for a settlement, adding the family was obliged to go to trial and re-live the trauma of the incident.

"This included being subjected to unsympathetic, and at times, cruel and denigrating cross-examination. All of this must have aggravated their mental agony.

"Attempting to determine an adequate solatium for the appellants' [the family] suffering is, of course, a daunting task as no monetary compensation can ever make up for their loss," Justice Leach said.

At a pre-conference on August 11, 2017, the Department of Basic Education admitted the family and the minor children had suffered emotional trauma and shock as a result of Michael's death, the judgments read. 

And despite government's concession, it was "somewhat startling to say the least" that the high court dismissed the claim for emotional trauma and shock, Justice Leach said.

"It is clear from all of this that the respondents admitted that Michael's death has caused each of the appellants to suffer psychiatric injury with which their extended period of grief and sense of bereavement was associated.

"Attempting to determine an adequate solatium for the appellants' suffering is, of course, a daunting task as no monetary compensation can ever make up for their loss."

The court, however, declined to award constitutional damages.

Following the judgment, Section27 said in a statement it hoped the ruling would bring some "semblance of closure for the family and restore their dignity for the manner in which Michael died and the treatment of the family by education authorities in the aftermath of his death".

Meanwhile, the department said it "would go through the judgment in detail and provide a comprehensive response in due course".

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Rand - Dollar
Rand - Pound
Rand - Euro
Rand - Aus dollar
Rand - Yen
Brent Crude
Top 40
All Share
Resource 10
Industrial 25
Financial 15
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.