03 April 2024

Claiming Compensation for Falls into Uncovered Manholes in South Africa

Submitted by: Kisha Reader
Claiming Compensation for Falls into Uncovered Manholes in South Africa

Falls due to uncovered manholes and damaged stormwater drains have become increasingly common in South Africa. These falls can lead to devastating injuries or fatalities.

This is according to Kirstie Haslam, partner at DSC Attorneys who says that where negligence plays a role, the victims can claim compensation for personal injury.

Haslam cites some examples of falls involving open manholes and drains:

In 2023, 10-year-old Tshepo Moloi died after falling into an open manhole in Soweto.

The previous year, an open manhole in a park in Dlamini, Soweto took the life of five-year-old Khayalethu Magadla. The manhole was one of two in the area that had been without covers for more than two years, despite being reported to the municipality.

A 74 year old motorist had to be rescued from a giant hole in the road that consumed his car in Greymont, Johannesburg. The hole, which had been dug to repair a water leak, had been the subject of numerous complaints from residents. The man suffered cuts to his head.

In 2021, businessman Angelo van Wyk, 40, injured his foot, leg and thigh after falling into an open manhole during a visit to Pietermaritzburg. The man was accessing his car from the passenger side when he tripped and fell into the hole. The road was in darkness because the streetlights weren’t working.

In 2020, a tow-truck driver attending a road-traffic accident at night sustained serious injuries after falling five metres into a water inspection drain. The man stepped out of his vehicle and straight into the hole, which had no cover and was located next to the door of his truck.

In the same year, a four-year-old boy drowned after falling into a sewerage system at a school in Mahikeng, North West. A school spokesman said thieves had repeatedly stolen the drain covers.

Haslam says that these are just some of the many South African stories of serious injuries and deaths resulting from uncovered manholes and drains.

She adds that factors contributing to the problem in South Africa include:

  • incomplete municipal works or road works;
  • vandalism;theft of metal covers for scrap;
  • wear and tear, with failure to replace broken covers;
  • use of incorrect or ill-fitting covers;municipal failures to respond to local residents’ reports about uncovered manholes or drains.

She explains that Municipal failure to repair uncovered manholes and drains is a persistent problem throughout South Africa and that individuals can certainly claim compensation for falls into uncovered manholes in South Africa.

“Where injury results directly from negligence by another party, this is grounds for a personal injury claim,” she says. “It constitutes negligence if a responsible authority (like a municipality) fails to take reasonable steps to protect the public from hazards, like uncovered manholes.”

Haslam points out that strong evidence of negligence exists especially if:

  • the relevant authority failed to respond to previous reports or complaints that the uncovered works pose a hazard;
  • the hazard is difficult to see and avoid;
  • no physical barrier or warning sign was erected.

“For the best chance of a successful claim, it helps to have supporting evidence such as witness statements, photographic evidence and records of previous safety complaints,” Haslam says. “You’ll also need medical records related to your injuries and a case number from the police.”

Haslam cites some of the many cases where compensation was awarded for manhole falls:

In December 2023, the Supreme Court ruled that the City of Cape Town was liable for the damages and costs incurred by Nqulelwa Mtyido, after she fell into an uncovered manhole in Mfuleni.

Earlier in 2023, the City of Johannesburg was ordered to pay over R7 million to a 16-year-old girl who suffered severe head injuries and permanently lost her sight after a fall into an uncovered manhole.

Maria du Plessis, 58, was awarded R800,000 in damages against the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality after falling into an uncovered manhole while walking on a pavement. Du Plessis suffered numerous injuries, including a back injury, a deep cut to her left knee, and multiple abrasions and cuts on both legs and elbows.

The open manhole was not marked, constituted a hazard and was a risk to pedestrians, the claim stated. The municipality was found negligent for failing to take precautions to protect pedestrians. As to who may be liable for personal injuries due to open manholes, Haslam says that the city or municipal authority is responsible for taking reasonable steps to protect the public from the dangers posed by uncovered manholes and drains.

In 2021, the City of Cape Town acknowledged its liability after David Olivier fell into a municipal manhole in Morgenster. “The manhole had been fitted with a lid that was too small and it flipped over when Olivier walked on it and he suffered light leg injuries,” she explains.

Haslam says that if you may have a claim for compensation after falling into an uncovered manhole, drain or other municipal works, start by scheduling a consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney that work on a no win, no fee basis.

“They can assess your claim, help prepare supporting evidence and represent you in legal proceedings, giving you the best chance of receiving the compensation you deserve,” she concludes.

For more information visit: www.dsclaw.co.za.