The Star E-dition

Limpopo taxi driver loses R2.8m claim for injuries ‘caused by his rescuers’


A TAXI driver who suffered multiple fractures after his minibus crashed into a cow, has lost his R2.8 million damages claim against a Limpopo municipality.

He said the firefighters who had rescued him had injured his foot with the Jaws of Life.

Hulisani Sithangu turned to the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) after the Limpopo High Court turned down his claim against the Capricorn District Municipality. He said the municipality should be held liable for the conduct of its firefighters.

The SCA also concluded that Sithangu had not proved that the firefighters were responsible for the open fracture to the right heel fat pad of his foot. Sithangu was involved in an accident on the road between Polokwane and Mankweng when the minibus he was driving crashed into a cow. He got trapped in the wreckage.

Firefighters were called to the scene, and they used the Jaws of Life to extricate him from the wreckage.

A medical report stated that he sustained multiple fractures on the lower part of his body involving both knees, left and right tibia and fibula, both ankles and an open fracture of his right heel’s fat pad.

Sithangu testified that after the collision, his minibus was extensively damaged and his legs were trapped in the wreckage.

Because of the collision, the brake booster, located next to the steering wheel mechanism, had collapsed and landed on his right leg. His leg got trapped, impeding his ability to move.

He was unable to open the door on the driver’s side because it was damaged, he said. He was trapped in the wreckage for one-and-a-half hours during which time, he was in terrible pain. At some point, he lost sensation in his left leg.

Sithangu said that before the firefighters arrived, he had asked the onlookers to take off his shoes because he had a burning sensation in his feet. He was unable to do it himself because he could not reach his feet as he was trapped and could not bend. However, his feet were not trapped.

Sithangu could not say how his right heel’s fat pad had been cut because during the rescue operation, the firefighters told him not to look at them while they worked on his leg.

He said that the moment they touched his right leg, he asked them not to do so because he did not think his right leg had been injured. The next moment, he heard one of the firefighters exclaiming: “S***”.

He said the firefighters quickly dressed his deeply lacerated right foot with a bandage, placed him in an ambulance and took him to Polokwane Mediclinic.

Sithangu said he noticed his right heel was badly injured only after hospital staff removed the wound dressing.

The municipality’s head of emergency management services denied that the rescue team could have cut Sithangu’s right heel fat pad off while rescuing him. Once the team had stabilised the vehicle, the Jaws of Life were used to cut the wreckage and remove any metal in the way. A ram was used during the operation to separate the sections of the vehicle to pull the occupant from the wreckage, he testified. He had never experienced the rescue team being “so reckless that they even touch the patient”.

Judge Dumisani Zondi, who wrote the SCA judgment, said the medical report showed the applicant sustained multiple fractures, including an open fracture of the right heel fat pad. “Because of this, it is not unreasonable to assume all the applicant’s injuries were as a result of the accident.”

The judge said Sithangu could not say the firefighters had injured his foot, as he had not witnessed it. Turning down the appeal, he said Sithangu had stated his right leg was not numb. It was thus improbable that he would not have known if the firefighters had cut his right heel pad, as he had claimed.





African News Agency