The scene is Cape Town’s iconic Sea Point Promenade. An elite runner participating in a race knocks down a pedestrian out for a Sunday walk, causing serious injuries. The pedestrian sues both the runner and the race organiser for damages of R718,000.
The outcome is another reminder to us all to be aware of our surroundings at all times – a moment’s inattention can change everything in a split second. As the facts here illustrate…
The race-day collision and the R718,000 claim
- Although the Court heard conflicting evidence as to detail, the setting for this unfortunate collision was common cause. A popular public space on a Sunday, replete with not only the normal pedestrians, cyclists, dog walkers and kite-flyers, but on this particular day also thousands of participants in a “Ladies Race”, ranging from athletes competing in an “elite race” to costumed “Fun Walk” entrants.
- Going for a Sunday stroll with a friend and “in the wrong place at the wrong time” whilst blissfully unaware of the misfortune about to be visited upon her for her act of goodwill, the claimant happily consented to a request from a group of “Fun Walk” participants to take a “happy snap” of them.
- Picture taken, she moved across the sidewalk to hand the camera back to its owner and a participant in the “elite race” ran straight into her, then ran off to finish her race.
- Suggestions that the runner (approaching it seems at about 20 kph) shouted a warning to the effect of “get out of my way” and forcefully pushed the claimant aside were in dispute, but what was clear was that she was knocked to the ground and sustained a hip injury which resulted in an ambulance trip to hospital and hip replacement surgery.
- The claimant sued both the runner and the race organiser for R718,000 in damages. The Court’s findings hold lessons for us all.
The race organiser off the hook
On the evidence, the race organiser and the race Marshall in the vicinity of the collision were cleared of any negligence.
The runner’s negligence
The runner, found the Court, was in a public space and should have been alive to the possibility of encountering other sidewalk users at close quarters. She had a duty to keep a proper look out and should have taken into account “the nonchalance and lack of interest of ordinary pedestrians who were out and about enjoying the fresh air rather than watching an athletics race. Ordinary human experience tells one that such persons might behave irrationally and get in the way, as it were.” (Emphasis added).
The runner was negligent in focussing only on the ground immediately ahead of her, “running as if in a bubble, oblivious to what was happening around her and intent only on achieving her goal of winning the race.” She could have avoided the collision with little effort and without seriously affecting her chances in the race.
The pedestrian’s 70% contributory negligence
However, in all the circumstances the Court held that the claimant (actually the executor of her estate as she had later died from unrelated causes) was only entitled to 30% of whatever damages could be proved.
She had been, said the Court, considerably more negligent than the runner. She had to be aware of the race, she knew runners were “whizzing” past her, and she had been warned of runners coming through.
The old ironic saying “no good deed goes unpunished” springs to mind, but the hard fact (in life as in law) is that we are often the architects of our own misfortune.
Be aware of your surroundings at all times!
It’s a hard lesson, but the law holds us to certain standards, and one of those is to keep a proper look out, particularly when in a public space. A moment’s inattention, and in a split second your life could change forever, with physical injuries compounded by the risk of damages claims and counterclaims of contributory negligence.
Take legal advice immediately if you are unlucky enough to be involved in an incident causing injury or other loss!