The application of the talem qualem rule

In situations where a wrongdoer causes some form of damage to a victim, the victim might suffer more damage than one might usually expect. This might be caused by the specific circumstances in which the victim finds himself/herself, which leads to the victim suffering more damage than the average person. Would this be an acceptable defence for the wrongdoer, or must the victim’s existing circumstances be ignored when establishing the liability of the wrongdoer?

An example of the abovementioned is where the victim is in such an adverse financial position that he/she is unable to mitigate the damage caused by the Defendant.

The case of Smit v Abrahams 1994 (4) SA 158 (K) dealt with the matter at hand and is still the leading authority relating to the aforementioned question. In the case of Smit, the Plaintiff was involved in a motor vehicle accident in which the vehicle he owned was damaged beyond economical repair. The Plaintiff not only claimed the market value of the vehicle as damages from the Defendant, but also the cost of a rental vehicle for a period of three months in order to conduct his business. The extent of the Plaintiff’s damage was therefore partly caused by his own financial position and the fact that he could not afford a replacement vehicle at the time. These type of situations are known as thin-skull (or egg-skull) cases, where the circumstances of the Plaintiff influence the amount of damages suffered. In general, the thin-skull rule dictates that a Defendant cannot use the extraordinary vulnerability of the Plaintiff as a defence. This is also referred to as the talem qualem rule. The rule is based on the principle that you take your victim as you find them.

In the judgement, the thin-skull question is discussed as part of the court’s enquiry into the issue of legal causation. With regards to legal causation it is held that a rigid approach should not be followed, but rather a more flexible approach. This flexible approach should be based on reasonableness and fairness and each case should be dependent on its own facts. The fact that the Plaintiff’s damage was partly caused by his own financial vulnerability, is merely one of the factors to be considered when establishing whether or not the damage suffered was sufficiently relevant to the wrongdoer’s conduct.

It was held that, considering the facts at hand, the Plaintiff was entitled to hire a replacement vehicle in order to conduct business and that this would satisfy the criterion of reasonableness and fairness. Because of the fact that the Plaintiff was not in the financial position to buy a new vehicle after the accident and a vehicle was necessary for him to conduct the business, it was regarded as fair and just that the Defendant should carry the expense of hiring a replacement vehicle.

In cases where the thin-skull rule comes into question, the court will have to determine whether it is reasonable and fair to state that the damage suffered by the Plaintiff and particularly the extent thereof, was caused by the Defendant’s conduct.

The thin-skull rule, as originally contemplated and formulated, is not directly applied in South African law. However, the applicable principle, namely that the Plaintiff’s vulnerability does not serve as an acceptable defence, is considered as a factor when the element of causation is considered.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

When does a claim prescribe?

The issue of the legal nature of a vindicatory claim and whether it gives rise to a debt that is subject to the three year extinctive prescription period has been decided differently by different divisions of the High Court. On 28 May 2015 the Supreme Court of Appeal came to a final decision in Absa Bank v Keet[1] as to whether claims under the actio rei vindicatio prescribe after 3 years or not.

One of the first questions that your attorney will ask you when you consult him is when your cause of action arose so that they can ascertain whether your claim has prescribed. If your claim is prescribed, it means that you no longer have any legal remedies available to you. Claims arising from a debt prescribe after three years and the rules of prescription are set out in the Prescription Act, 1969.

There is one specific claim where the application of the 3 year prescription period was uncertain and this was in regard to claims under the actio rei vindicatio. This is a legal action by which the plaintiff demands that the defendant return a thing that belongs to the plaintiff, and it may only be used when the plaintiff owns the thing and the defendant is impeding the plaintiff’s possession of the thing.

A rei vindicatio action is often used in disputes surrounding instalment sales where ownership only passes on the payment of a last instalment or where instalments are not duly paid. This is mostly coupled with a claim for cancellation. In other words, the seller cancels the sale agreement and claims return of the thing sold.

In the case of Absa Bank v Keet[2] the seller of a motor vehicle attempted to cancel the sale agreement and to claim the return of the vehicle sold. The purchaser of the vehicle responded to this claim with a special plea stating that the claim for the return of the vehicle had prescribed.

The reason for stating that the claim had prescribed was that the agreement on which the seller sued would have come to an end on the date on which he contended the amount outstanding became due and payable, and that it was more than 3 years since that amount became due.

In the case of Staegemann v Langenhoven[3] it was held that a vindicatory claim does not prescribe after three years. The High Court in the Keet case held that this case was wrongly decided because if Staegemann were correct, ‘the Bank could withhold its demand for the tractor for another decade or even longer, and then demand return of the vehicle so that it could calculate its damages’.

The Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) in the Keet case had to decide whether the High Court was correct in holding that the seller’s claim for the repossession of its vehicle is a ‘debt’, which for the purposes of the Prescription Act prescribes after three years.

The SCA made an important distinction between extinctive prescription and acquisitive prescription to come to its final decision. Extinctive prescription deals with a creditor’s right of action against a debtor, which is a personal right. On the other hand, acquisitive prescription deals with acquiring real rights to property (in terms of the Prescription Act a person can acquire ownership of property after 30 years of uninterrupted possession). Real rights are primarily concerned with the relationship between a person and a thing and personal rights are concerned with a relationship between two persons.

The person who is entitled to a real right over a thing can, by way of vindicatory action, claim that thing from any individual who interferes with his right. Such a right is the right of ownership. If, however, the right is not an absolute, but a relative right to a thing, so that it can only be enforced against a determined individual or a class of individuals, then it is a personal right.[4]

The Supreme Court of Appeal is therefore of the opinion that to consider a vindicatory action as a ‘debt’ which prescribes after three years is contrary to the scheme of the Act and that this would undermine the significance of the distinction which the Prescription Act draws between extinctive prescription and acquisitive prescription. In other words, what the creditor loses as a result of operation of extinctive prescription is his right of action against the debtor, which is a personal right. The creditor does not lose a right to a thing.

The SCA has therefore made it clear that to equate the vindicatory action with a ‘debt’ has the unintended and absurd consequence in that by way of extinctive prescription the debtor acquires ownership of a creditor’s property after three years instead of 30 years. The vindicatory action therefore does not prescribe after three years.

[1] (817/13) [2015] ZASCA 81 (28 May 2015)

[2] (817/13) [2015] ZASCA 81 (28 May 2015)

[3] Staegemann v Langenhoven & others 2011 (5) SA 648 (WCC).

[4] Wessels Law of Contract in South Africa 2 ed vol 1 p 3-4.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

Public nuisances: Legal rights in terms of legislation

Persons who commit disruptive acts of unacceptable behaviour in public places may be warned, arrested and subsequently prosecuted by the authorities. The offender shall be liable for a fine, imprisonment or both upon conviction. How is this enforcement of our rights achieved by an ordinary citizen?

A public nuisance is a criminal wrong; it is an act or omission that obstructs, damages, or inconveniences the rights of the community. The term public nuisance covers a wide variety of minor crimes that threaten the health, morals, safety, comfort, convenience or welfare of a community.[1]

Legislation offers relief in this respect, in specific by-laws of local Municipalities. A by-law is a law that is passed by the Council of a municipality to regulate the affairs and the services it provides within its area of jurisdiction[2]. A municipality derives the powers to pass a by-law from the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa.

With regards to Public Nuisances one would look to By-law Relating to Streets, Public Places and the Prevention of Noise Nuisances, 2007[3]. The main body of this by-law lists certain acts that are deemed prohibited behaviour and are therewith criminalised. Various acts including begging, using abusive or threatening language, being under the influence of drugs or alcohol and causing a disturbance by shouting, screaming or making any other loud or persistent noise or sound, including amplified noise or sound are listed therein.[4]

Should anyone and his conduct fall within this definition and perform any or multiple prohibited acts of public nuisance, the authorities are to be alerted immediately. The authorities have the power to instruct the offender to immediately cease the offending behaviour, failing which he will be guilty of an offence.

Section 23 states that any person who contravenes or fails to comply with any provision of this by-law or disobeys any instruction by the authorities enforcing this by-law, shall be guilty of an offence. This offender shall be liable to a fine or imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months, or to both a fine and such imprisonment.

It is therefore evident that by identifying certain acts of unacceptable, aggressive, threatening, abusive or obstructive behaviour of persons in public the offender may be ordered to immediately cease such offending conduct or be arrested for not complying with any order to do so.

Reference List:

  1. Nuisance

[1] Nuisance



[4]Section 2 By-law Relating to Streets, Public Places and the Prevention of Noise Nuisances, 2007

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

Sportbeserings: Wie is aanspreeklik?

Kontak sporte gee dikwels daartoe aanleiding dat die spelers daarvan ernstig beseer word. Kan iemand aanspreeklik gehou word vir hierdie beserings, of neem jy, as deelnemer, inherent die risiko wanneer jy aan hierdie sportsoorte deelneem. Die regspraak het egter belangrike beginsels is vasgestel met verwysing na die bogenoemde kwessie. Eerstens is dit belangrik om deeglik bewus te wees van die betrokke sportsoort se reëls, wat toelaatbaar is, al dan nie, alvorens jy aan die sportsoort deelneem.

Wanneer jy aan ʼn sport deelneem, stem jy in tot die moontlikheid van beserings? In die 2012-Appèlhofsaak van Hattingh v Roux, is hierdie stelling oorweeg. In hierdie saak het die appellant die respondent ernstig beseer deur gebruik te maak van ʼn skrum tegniek, die jack-knife.

Die Appèlhofregter, Plasket, het ten gunste van die respondent beslis. In die uitspraak is daar beslis dat die appellant opsetlik die respondent beseer het en dat sy aksies as onregmatig beskou moet word. Die regsbeginsel van Volenti Non Fit Iniuria, of die toestemming tot potensiële skade, sou onder normale omstandighede ʼn persoon beskerm wat iemand in ʼn sportwedstryd beseer, maar die regsbeginsel (Volenti Non Fit Iniuria) geld slegs waar die besering plaasvind onder normale omstandighede gedurende ʼn wedstryd.

Regter Plasket het gesê dat: “Eerstens was die jack-knife beweging wat deur Alex uitgevoer is in teenstelling met die reëls van die wedstryd. Verder was die beweging ook in teenstelling met die gees en die konvensies van die sport. Tweedens was die beweging ook vooruitbeplan, en was dit dus doelbewus uitgevoer. Derdens, alhoewel een van die doelwitte was om veld te wen met die skrum, was ʼn definitiewe oorweging ook om die opposisie te intimideer, spesifiek Ryan. Dit was ook uiters gevaarlik.”[1]

Plasket AJ gaan verder:

“aangesien hierdie optrede aanleiding gegee het tot so ʼn ernstige oortreding van die reëls, kan dit nie as die norm beskou word vir ʼn gewone rugby wedstryd nie, en is dit ongelooflik gevaarlik. It would not have constituted conduct which rugby players would accept as part and parcel of the normal risks.”[2]

Dit blyk duidelik vanuit hierdie uitspraak dat die hoofkwessie om te oorweeg wanneer daar geëvalueer word of ʼn persoon aanspreeklik gehou kan word ʼn ernstige besering in ʼn kontaksport, die vraag is of die besering plaasgevind het in die normale gang van die wedstryd.

Appelregter Brand, het in In alternatiewe uitspraak die volgende stelling gemaak:

“I believe that conduct which constitutes a flagrant contravention of the rules of rugby and which is aimed at causing serious injury or which is accompanied by full awareness that serious injury may ensue, will be regarded as wrongful and hence attract legal liability for the resulting harm”.[3]

Daar word gestel dat waar ʼn aksie van so aard is dat dit ʼn blatante oortreding van die reëls van die spel is, die speler homself met die nagevolge van die oortreding konsolideer en opsetlik voortgaan met die handeling, behoort die speler aanspreeklik gehou te word vir sy aksies. Dit is belangrik dat die betekenis van hierdie stelling nie is dat enige besering wat voortspruit uit die oortreding van ʼn reël met regsgevolge gepaard moet gaan nie, maar slegs gevalle wat so ernstig en blatant is, dat dit wel nodig is.

Dit sou ʼn onnodige las plaas op ʼn speler om nie enige reël te verbreek nie, uit die vrees dat ʼn speler in die ander span beseer kan raak en dat regsgevolge daaruit mag spruit. Dink jou in dat ʼn rugbyspeler deliktueer aanspreeklik gehou word vir die feit dat hy van sy voete af gegaan het by ʼn losgemaal, ʼn algemene fout in rugby. Die beredenering agter die Roux-uitspraak, is bloot dat waar ʼn speler opsetlik en blatant die reëls van die spel verbreek en weet dat die oortreding ernstige beserings kan veroorsaak, kan die speler aanspreeklik gehou word.

Daar is dus geen rede om die manier waarop daar ʼn aan ʼn sport deelgeneem word, aan te pas bloot uit die vrees van regsgevolge nie. Wees egter bewus van die feit dat kwaadwillige aksies op die sportveld ernstige gevolge mag hê



Labuschagne JMT “Straf- en Delikregtelike Aanspreeklikheid vir Sportbeserings” Stell LR 1998 1 72


Roux v Hattingh 2012 (6) SA 428 (SCA)

[1] Roux v Hattingh 2012 (6) SA 428 (SCA) at Par27

[2] Roux v Hattingh 2012 (6) SA 428 (SCA) at Par28

[3] Labuschagne JMT “Straf- en Delikregtelike Aanspreeklikheid vir Sportbeserings” Stell LR 1998 1 72 78

Hierdie is ‘n algemene inligtingstuk en moet gevolglik nie as regs- of ander professionele advies benut word nie. Geen aanspreeklikheid kan aanvaar word vir enige foute of weglatings of enige skade of verlies wat volg uit die gebruik van enige inligting hierin vervat nie. Kontak altyd u regsadviseur vir spesifieke en toegepaste advies. (E&OE)