When does a claim prescribe?

JanB02The 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)

Rescission of judgement

Imagine receiving the nasty surprise that default judgement has been entered against your name because of a summons that you have never even received. It is necessary that you know the procedure of how to rescind a default judgement to get you out of this unwanted situation.

Many people are confronted with the unfortunate situation of a judgement being entered against their name, without even being aware that legal action is being taken against them. The reason for this is that when a party fails to deliver a notice of intention to defend a summons, a Plaintiff is entitled to lodge an application for default judgment.[1]

The reason for many Defendants not filing a notice of intention to defend, is the fact that they simply never receive the summons initiating an action against them. Personal service of documents by the Sheriff is only required where the matter affects a person’s personal status, such as with divorces and sequestrations. As it is not a requirement for the Sheriff personally, to serve a summons on a person, it can lead to situations where the Defendant never sees the summons, although the Sheriff stated that the summons has been legitimately served.[2] An example hereof many people who indicate their domicilium citandi et executandi or nominated address where notices are sent, in an agreement. In the event of the Defendant moving, the Sheriff will still deliver the summons to this address, but the Defendant will never receive it.

In the event of a Defendant not receiving a summons, certain steps have to be taken to have the judgment rescinded. The Defendant has to serve and file his application for rescission of judgment within 20 days after becoming aware of the judgment that was entered against him.[3] The Defendant (now the Applicant) is required to set out in an affidavit why the matter was not defended and what the bona fide defence is to the claim.  The onus is upon the Applicant to set out legitimate reasons for why the matter was not defended.[4]

When bringing an application for the rescission of judgement before court, the following principles are applicable:[5]

The Applicant must give a reasonable explanation for his default. The court will be unwilling to help the Applicant if it is found that he was aware of the proceedings against him or if the default was simply due to his own negligence. If the Applicant’s default is of a wilful or negligent nature, these will serve as considerations that the court will take into account when deciding whether an application should be granted.

In many cases an Applicant simply rescinds a default judgement to delay the inevitable. It is therefore necessary for the Applicant to show that he is not simply delaying the Plaintiff’s claim. A bona fide defence, in other word a genuine defence, must therefore be shown, although it is not required to deal fully with the merits thereof or produce any evidence in this regard.

Ultimately, the court has discretion whether to rescind the default judgment or not, based on whether good cause was shown by the Applicant.[6]

Although it involves an unwanted and often lengthy and expensive process, it is important to have any judgments against your name rescinded as soon as possible, as they have a negative impact on your credit rating. These judgements, if executed, will also leave you highly annoyed when the Sheriff shows up on your doorstep with a warrant of execution to seize your personal belongings.

[1] Magistrates Court, Rules of Court, Rule 12(1)(c)

[2] Magistrates Court, Rules of Court, Rule 9(3)

[3] Magistrates Court, Rules of Court, Rule 49(1)

[4] Du Plessis v Tager 1953 (2) SA 5 (O)

[5] Grant v Plumbers (Pty) Ltd 1949 (2) SA 470 (O)

[6] De Witts Auto Body Repairs v Fedgen Insurance Co Ltd 1994 (4) SA 705

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.

Tersydestelling van vonnis

Stel jouself voor, die onaangename verrassing as jy onverwags ʼn vonnis by verstek ontvang, as gevolg van ʼn dagvaardiging wat jy nooit ontvang het nie. Dit is belangrik dat jy bewus is van die prosedures wat gevolg moet word om so ʼn vonnis teen jou ter syde te laat stel.

Dit gebeur gereeld dat individue hulself in die ongewenste situasie bevind dat ʼn vonnis by verstek, sonder hul medewete, teen hulle aangeteken word. Die voorafgenoemde wanneer ʼn party versuim om die kennisgewing van voorneme om te verdediging te liasseer, dit gee dan aanleiding daartoe dat die Eiser daarop geregtig is om aansoek te doen vir vonnis by verstek.[1]

Die rede waarom sommige Aangeklaagdes versuim om die kennisgewing van voorneme om te verdedig te liasseer, is as gevolg van die feit dat hulle nooit die dagvaardiging ontvang het nie. Die betekening van prosesstukke is slegs ʼn vereiste in gevalle waar die aangeleentheid ʼn persoon se persoonlike status beïnvloed, soos in die geval van egskeidings en sekwestrasies. Aangesien dit is nie ʼn vereiste is dat die Balju persoonlik ʼn dagvaardiging aan die Aangeklaagde moet beteken nie, kan situasies ontstaan waar die Aangeklaagde nooit die dagvaardiging gesien, of ontvang, het nie, ten spyte daarvan dat die Balju dit wel op die aangewese en voorgeskrewe wyse beteken het.[2]

Die bogenoemde vind byvoorbeeld plaas wanneer die sogenaamde domicilium citandi et executandi (ʼn adres wat deur die Aangeklaagde aangedui word as die adres waarna pleitstukke gestuur moet word) nie meer die korrekte adres is nie. Indien die nuwe adres nie aangeteken is nie, sal die Balju steeds die dagvaardiging na die eerste (en dus verkeerde) adres stuur om te beteken.

Indien ʼn verstek van vonnis teen ʼn Aangeklaagde aangeteken word, moet sekere stappe geneem word om die vonnis ter syde te laat stel. Volgens die Landdroshofreëls, moet die Aangeklaagde binne 20 dae nadat hy bewus geword het van die vonnis, kennis gee van sy aansoek van tersydestelling.[3] Daar word van die Aangeklaagde (wat nou as die Applikant bekend staan) vereis om in ʼn beëdigde verklaring te verduidelik waarom die saak nie verdedig was nie en wat sy verdediging tot die eis is. Die bewyslas berus op die Applikant om geldige redes te verskaf vir waarom die aksie nie verdedig was nie.[4]

Wanneer ʼn aansoek vir die tersydestelling van vonnis gebring word, geld die volgende beginsels:[5]

Die Applikant moet ʼn redelike verduideliking gee vir sy versuim om die saak te verdedig. Die hof nie bereid om te help, indien daar gevind word dat die Applikant bewus was van die aksie teen hom en dat sy eie nalatigheid daartoe gelei het dat hy nie die saak verdedig het nie. Opsetlike verstek of nalatigheid aan die kant van die Aangeklaagde sal as bepalende faktore deur die hof oorweeg word wanneer daar besluit word of vonnis wel ter syde gestel moet word.

In baie gevalle doen ʼn Applikant bloot aansoek vir tersydestelling van vonnis om die onvermydelike uit te stel. Die Applikant moet bewys dat hy nie bloot die Eiser se saak probeer vertraag nie. Daar word dus van die Applikant verreis om ʼn bona fide verdediging, of te wel ʼn werklike verdediging, aan te voer, alhoewel dit nie nodig is vir die Applikant om die meriete van die verdediging te bewys of enige getuienis hieroor te lewer nie.

Die hof beskik oor die diskresie om te bepaal of die vonnis wel ter syde gestel kan word, na gelang van die rede wat deur die Applikant aangevoer is tydens die aansoek.[6]

Alhoewel hierdie proses dikwels lank en duur is, is die van uiterse beland om enige ongeregverdigde vonnisse teen jou naam ter syde te stel, sodra jy daarvan bewus word. Hierdie vonnisse het ʼn negatiewe impak op jou krediet rekord. Indien die balju onverwags met ʼn lasbrief by jou opdaag om op jou persoonlike bates beslag te lê, kan dit ook aanleiding gee tot emosionele ontwrigting en verlies aan aansien.

[1] Landroshofrëels, Reël 12(1)(c)

[2] Landroshofrëels, Reël 9(3)

[3] Landroshofrëels, Reël 49(1)

[4] Du Plessis v Tager 1953 (2) SA 5 (O)

[5] Grant v Plumbers (Pty) Ltd 1949 (2) SA 470 (O)

[6] De Witts Auto Body Repairs v Fedgen Insurance Co Ltd 1994 (4) SA 705

Hierdie artikel is ‘n algemene inligtingstuk en moet nie gebruik of staatgemaak word op as professionele advies nie. Geen aanspreeklikheid kan aanvaar word vir enige foute of weglatings of vir enige verlies of skade wat voortspruit uit vertroue op enige inligting hierin nie. Kontak atyd jou finansiële adviseur vir spesifieke en gedetailleerde advies.

Disclaimer notices

Disclaimer notices offer protection for owners and employees concerning shopping centres, stadiums, parking lots and other public areas. For these notices to be effective, certain requirements have to be adhered to. False reliance on these disclaimers can be a very expensive mistake. Find out whether your disclaimer notice will be sufficient to protect you and your employees.

Disclaimer notices are commonly seen in shopping centres, stadiums, parking lots and other public areas. These notices are generally aimed at protecting the owner or employees with regards to the area in question, by exempting him/her from legal liability when a member of public using the area suffers damage.

It is well established that disclaimer notices are enforceable when properly implemented. This is clear from the extract below:

Durban’s Water Wonderland (Pty) Ltd v Botha and Another (1999) 1 All SA 411 (A) at 115:

“If the language of a disclaimer or exemption clause is such that it exempts the proferens from liability in express and unambiguous terms effect must be given to that meaning. If there is ambiguity, the language must be construed against the proferens. (See Government of the Republic of South Africa v Fibre Spinners & Weavers (Pty) Ltd 1978 (2) SA 794 (A) at 804 C.)”

According to prevailing case law, when considering whether a disclaimer notice is effective, two factors have to be considered:

Firstly, from the Durban Water Wonderland case, it is evident that for the disclaimer’s content to be effective, the wording thereof must not be ambiguous. It is therefore required that the disclaimer must indicate in express terms what the person relying on the disclaimer is exempted from when someone reads the disclaimer. However, any alternative meaning of the disclaimer notice cannot be too widely interpreted. It is simply required that the meaning of the disclaimer is clear to anyone reading it. This test is implemented so that a vague statement cannot be regarded as sufficient to bind someone according to the legal principle of so called “quasi-mutual assent”, which is the underlying basis binding a person that reads a disclaimer notice.

Consider the following examples: “the owner of the property is hereby exempted” and “the owner, managing agent and any other employee is hereby exempted”. In the first example only the owner of the property is exempted from liability, while in the second example, employees of the owner and the managing agent of the property are included under the exemption clause. The first example would not have been sufficient if damage was caused to a person by the negligence of an employee, as employees were clearly not within the ambit of the notice. It is therefore important to ensure that the wording of a disclaimer is clear, unambiguous and is sufficient to protect all parties that need protection.

A further issue to take into account when the effectiveness of a disclaimer notice is considered is the question whether such disclaimer has been properly displayed. A disclaimer can only be effective when it is found that the disclaimer was displayed in an appropriate position, which would allow the reasonable person to have seen the disclaimer, or to ought to have seen the disclaimer. Practical issues, such as the size of the disclaimer, the distance from the viewer, the visibility, font and positioning of the disclaimer should be taken into account. This test is implemented as the content of the disclaimer can only fall within the knowledge of a person, when the notice is of such a nature that it is easily spotted by someone. When a disclaimer is affixed to a premise, it is therefore important that the above factors be taken into account.

It is clear that a disclaimer is an effective method of protection, especially when used in areas where large amounts of people visit frequently. However, the use of a disclaimer notice is a potentially risky practise, as it must be ensured that the wording and placement thereof is sufficient for the reliance thereon. It is recommended that an attorney be consulted before putting up such a notice.

Bibliography
Cases
Durban’s Water Wonderland (Pty) Ltd v Botha and Another (1999) 1 All SA 411 (A)
Government of the Republic of South Africa v Fibre Spinners & Weavers (Pty) Ltd 1978 (2) SA 794 (A)

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.

Vrywaringskennisgewings

Vrywaringskennisgewings bied beskerming aan eienaars en werknemers van winkelsentrums, stadions, parkeerareas en ander publieke areas. Alvorens hierdie  vrywaringskennisgewings effektief is, moet die kennisgewings aan bepaalde vereistes voldoen. Om verkeerdelik op hierdie vrywaringskennisgewings te steun, kan ʼn baie duur fout wees. Bepaal of die betrokke vrywaringskennisgewing voldoende is om jou en jou werknemers te beskerm.

Vrywaringskennisgewings word dikwels in winkelsentrums, stadions, parkeerareas en ander publieke areas gesien. Hierdie vrywaringskennisgewings word gebruik om die eienaar of werknemers van die tersaaklike area te beskerm, deur hom/haar vry te spreek van aanspreeklikheid, indien ʼn lid van die publiek van hierdie bepaalde area gebruik maak.

Vanuit regspraak blyk dit duidelik dat vrywaringskennisgewings wel afdwingbaar is, indien die kennisgewing op die korrekte wyse toegepas word. Die afdwingbaarheid van die vrywaringskennisgewings blyk duidelik vanuit die onderstaande uittreksel:

Durban’s Water Wonderland (Pty) Ltd v Botha and Another (168/97) [1998] ZASCA 115; [1999] 1 All SA 411 (A)

“If the language of a disclaimer or exemption clause is such that it exempts the proferens from liability in express and unambiguous terms effect must be given to that meaning. If there is ambiguity, the language must be construed against the proferens. (See Government of the Republic of South Africa v Fibre Spinners & Weavers (Pty) Ltd 1978 (2) SA 794 (A) at 804 C.)”

Volgens regspraak, moet twee belangrike faktore oorweeg word om te bepaal of ʼn vrywaringskennisgewing wel afdwingbaar is.

Eerstens, uit die Durban’s Water Wonderland-saak, is dit duidelik dat die betrokke  kennisgewing slegs effektief is, indien die bewoording van die kennisgewing nie dubbelsinnig is nie. ʼn Definitiewe vereiste is dus dat die kennisgewing duidelik en sonder enige dubbelsinnige bewoording uiteen gesit moet word. Die bewoording moet van so ’n aard wees dat die Verweerder gevrywaar word wanneer die publiek die kennisgewing lees. Dit moet egter bygevoeg word dat enige alternatiewe betekenis aan die kennisgewing nie te wyd geïnterpreteer moet word nie. Daar word dus bloot verreis dat die inhoud en betekenis van die kennisgewing duidelik is aan enigiemand wat dit lees. Hierdie toets word geïmplementeer sodat ʼn vae en dubbelsinnige stelling nie as voldoende beskou word om die publiek te bind volgens die sogenaamde “quasi mutual assent”-leerstuk nie. Hierdie leerstuk is die onderliggende regsbasis wat ʼn persoon bind aan die inhoud van ʼn vrywaringskennisgewing.

Die volgende voorbeelde van bewoording kan oorweeg word: “Die eienaar van die eiendom word hiermee gevrywaar” of “die eienaar, besturende agent en enige ander werknemer word hiermee gevrywaar” In die eerste voorbeeld word slegs die eienaar van die eiendom gevrywaar terwyl die tweede voorbeeld ook die besturende agent van ʼn eiendom asook enige werknemer vrywaar. Die eerste voorbeeld sou nie voldoende gewees het indien die skade aan ʼn lid van die publiek veroorsaak was deur die nalatigheid van ʼn werknemer nie, aangesien werknemers duidelik nie binne die bestek van die kennisgewing geval het nie. Dit is dus belangrik om te verseker dat die inhoud van ʼn vrywaringskennisgewing duidelik, verstaanbaar en voldoende is om alle partye te beskerm wat beskerming nodig het.

ʼn Verder kwessie wat ingedagte geneem moet word, wanneer die afdwingbaarheid van ʼn vrywaringskennisgewing oorweeg word, is die vraag of die kennisgewing duidelik sigbaar is. Die kennisgewing kan slegs afdwingbaar wees indien dit behoorlik vertoon is, sodat lede van die publiek dit gesien het of dit behoort te gesien het. Praktiese kwessies, soos die grootte van die kennisgewing, die afstand tot by die kennisgewing, die sigbaarheid daarvan, die lettergrootte en – tipe en die posisionering van die kennisgewing moet ook in ag geneem word. Hierdie toets word geïmplementeer aangesien die inhoud daarvan slegs binne die kennis van die lid van die publiek beskou kan word, indien die kennisgewing van so aard was dat die publiek dit maklik kon raaksien. Wanneer ʼn vrywaringskennisgewing dus gebruik word, moet die bogenoemde faktore in gedagte gehou word.

Dit is duidelik dat ʼn vrywaringskennisgewing ʼn effektiewe metode van beskerming kan wees, veral wanneer dit gebruik word in areas wat lede van die publiek dikwels besoek. Die gebruik van ʼn vrywaringskennisgewing is egter ʼn potensiële problematiese praktyk, aangesien daar verseker moet word dat die bewoording en plasing van die kennisgewing voldoende is om daarop te steun. Daar word aanbeveel dat ʼn prokureur die bewoording van die kennisgewing moet nagaan, voordat dit in gebruik geneem word.

Verwysingslys
Sake
Durban’s Water Wonderland (Pty) Ltd v Botha and Another (1999) 1 All SA 411 (A)
Government of the Republic of South Africa v Fibre Spinners & Weavers (Pty) Ltd 1978 (2) SA 794 (A)

Hierdie artikel is ‘n algemene inligtingstuk en moet nie gebruik of staatgemaak word op as professionele advies nie. Geen aanspreeklikheid kan aanvaar word vir enige foute of weglatings of vir enige verlies of skade wat voortspruit uit vertroue op enige inligting hierin nie. Kontak atyd jou finansiële adviseur vir spesifieke en gedetailleerde advies.