Contracting with minors in a digital context

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In this article, we examine whether contracts entered online by minors, using their parents’ credit cards, are legally binding in the specific context of social media such as Facebook.

Both Common law and legislation deal with the capacity of minors who enter into different types of contracts. According to the Children’s Act, 38 of 2005 a minor is a person between the ages of seven and 18 years. In terms of common law a minor does not have sufficient capacity to incur binding obligations under a contract and must obtain the assistance or consent of their guardian to do so. This consent can be given before the contract is concluded or thereafter, in which case it is seen as ratification of the contract. There are exceptions to this rule, which may be found in various pieces of legislation as well as in common law, such as contracts where the minor obtains only rights and no duties (e.g. a donation).

A minor can escape liability even when they have been bound in terms of the contract (i.e. where the guardian has assisted the minor in the conclusion of the contract, consented to or ratified the contract). This can be done where the contract was prejudicial to him or her at the time that it was concluded. The court may then, on application, set the contract aside and order that each party be placed in the same position as what they were in before the contract had been concluded.

Facebook is currently involved in an ongoing class-action lawsuit. In this lawsuit, a class of parents in America are pressing their claim that Facebook should change how it handles online transactions by minors.

Attorneys for the parents in the above case note that it is important that Facebook has knowledge of a user’s actual age but still treats children the same as adult users when it comes to taking their money.

One of the biggest issues here is that reciprocal performance, being the payment of money via credit or debit card and the child obtaining credits, takes place almost immediately. Therefore, if the parent were to be refunded, the minor would be unjustifiably enriched using the credits.

The system, that Facebook currently employs, is therefore problematic since it takes advantage of children who may not fully understand the contracts that they are entering into when they purchase game credits. Furthermore, should the parents be immediately refunded in the current system, it may lead to situations where the parent consents to the purchases and then after the child obtains the enjoyment from the credits, request that their accounts be credited due to a ‘lack of consent’.

It is therefore clear that this system of payment should be changed. We should obtain clarity on how to deal with this in South Africa once the class-action suit in America has been concluded and a solution has been reached. At present, it seems that there will be no alternative for parents whose children overspend or use their credit or debit cards, without permission. If your child has, a Facebook gaming habit it is a good idea to keep a close eye on your wallet until we have clarity on the recourse available to parents who find themselves in this situation.

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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.

The Living Will

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Most  people are familiar with a will or testament and understand the importance of having this legal declaration drafted, by which the testator nominates an executor to manage his or her estate and provide for the distribution of his or her property to beneficiaries when he or she dies.

But how many people have considered drafting a living will?

A living will  does not deal with assets, heirs and beneficiaries, but with the philosophy of death and dying, and should be considered carefully and drafted by a professional.

A living will is a legal document expressing a person’s wishes regarding life-prolonging medical treatment when that person can no longer voice his or her wishes.  It is also referred to as an advance medical directive.

A typical clause in a living will would read as follows:

If the time comes when I can no longer take part in decisions for my own future, let this declaration stand as my directive.

If I suffer from physical illness or impairment expected to cause me severe distress, rendering  me incapable of rational existence, from which there is no reasonable prospect of recovery,  I withhold my consent to be kept alive by artificial means and do not give my consent to any form of tube-feeding when I am dying; and I request that I receive whatever quantity of drugs and intravenous fluids as may be required to keep me comfortable and  free from pain  even if the moment of death is hastened. I withhold my consent to any attempt at resuscitation, should my heart and breathing stop and my prognosis is hopeless.

The living will tells the doctor and family that the patient does not consent to being kept alive artificially. It speaks for the patient at a time when the patient may be unable to communicate.

South African law and most religions accepts the validity of the living will, but none of the main religions accept euthanasia.

Euthanasia is against the law. Sean Davison, the respected UWC professor who helped his 85-year-old terminally ill mother, Patricia Ferguson, die in New Zealand by preparing a lethal dose of morphine, was arrested in New Zealand in September 2010 on an attempted murder charge.

It is important to have a properly drafted, legal living will to avoid far reaching and traumatic consequences for the loved ones that stay behind.

Many lawyers who practice in the area of estate planning include a living will and a health care power of attorney in their package of estate planning documents.

The advantages of a living will

  1. The directives respect the patient’s human rights, and in particular his or her right to reject medical treatment.
  2. It encourages full discussion about end-of-life decisions.
  3. It also means that the medical staff and caregivers are aware of the patient’s wishes, and knowing what the patient wants means that doctors are more likely to give appropriate treatment.
  4. It will avoid the situation where the patient’s family and friends have to take the difficult decisions.

Disadvantages of  a living will

  1.  Drafting this document  can  be very depressing.
  2. The person may still be healthy and not in a position to actually imagine that he or she could         ever be in the position where they would voluntarily give up living.
  3. When the time comes to act on the living will the patient might have changed his or her mind and it is then often difficult to amend the document.

Important points to consider

  1. The living will should not be incorporated or attached to the last will and testament, which is only acted upon after death.
  2. A living will does not become effective unless the patient becomes incapacitated; until then the patient will be able to choose appropriate treatment.
  3. A certificate by the patient’s doctor and another independent doctor certifying that the patient is either suffering from a terminal illness or permanently unconscious, is required before the living will becomes effective. In the case of a heart attack, the living will does not take effect. A living will is only executed when ultimate recovery is hopeless.
  4. You have to notify your doctor and family of your living will and preferably have copies of the document available for the doctor, hospital  and  family.

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.

Who is responsible for water leaks?

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Maintenance of a sectional title scheme can appear straightforward, but the reality is that disputes arise frequently regarding maintenance issues relating to sectional title units. This is often the result of the complex relationship of close quarter living and the shared form of ownership represented by sectional titles. Making things even more complicated is the silence of the Sectional Titles Act on many of the minor issues encountered daily in sectional title schemes. So how do you approach the maintenance issues in a sectional title scheme?

Dave owns a flat on the second floor of a sectional title scheme. There is a water leak coming from flat A above him, causing damp problems in his flat and the owner of flat A does not repair the leak. This scenario creates a flurry of questions:

  • Should Dave, the owner of flat A or the body corporate repair the leak?
  • Can they enter flat A, or should the owner grant them permission first?
  • If the owner of flat A refuses to do the repairs or to grant access, what are they to do to stop the leak and further damage occurring?

What does the law say regarding the responsibility of parties in this scenario? Section 44(1)(a) and (c) of the Sectional Titles Act read with management rules 68-70 of the Sectional Titles Act provides that an owner must repair and maintain his section in a state of good repair. The owner must also allow a person who is authorized in writing by the body corporate to enter his section at a reasonable time and after notice was given (except in case of emergency when no notice is required) to enter the property. This will happen with the purpose to inspect, maintain, repair, or renew the pipes, wires cables, and ducts capable of being used in connection with the enjoyment of any other section or the common property.

Section 37 of the Sectional Titles Act requires the body corporate to maintain and repair the common property. Therefore, if the leak originates from the shower in flat A above, it will be the responsibility of the owner of flat A to repair the damage.

Due to the fact that the leak is caused by flat A’s shower base, and therefore forms part of his section and not the common property, it is the responsibility of the owner of the section causing the damage and the leak to repair it.

If such an owner does not repair the leak within a reasonable time as to stop further damage, the owner suffering the damage can ask the body corporate to step in and repair the leak using the same procedure as in the instance where the leak is caused by pipes forming part of the common property. The body corporate can then recover the cost of repairs from the defaulting owner.

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.

Publication of untrue statements in the media

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Defamation law in South Africa is one of the most debated topics in our legal system, the reason being that South Africa is a democratic country founded on human dignity, equality and freedom of expression, to name just a few principles. These founding provisions in our constitution, together with the relevant Human Rights provisions, make it difficult to find an equitable balance between these competing rights in defamation cases. We all agree that a free press is an important part of an open and democratic society but, at the same time, that false, unjustifiable attacks on an individual’s reputation are damaging and wrong. How do our courts find a balance between these competing rights?

First of all it is important to note that no right in the Constitution is an absolute right. The relevant section in the Constitution is Section 36, which provides for the limitation of rights in the following circumstances. The first requirement is that the law must be of general application. Secondly, the limitation must be reasonable and justifiable in an open democratic society. To determine when it will be reasonable the court will take certain factors into consideration, which is provided for in Section 36 of the Constitution. These factors include the nature of the right, the importance of the purpose of the limitation, the relationship between the limitation and its purpose, and whether less restrictive means were explored to achieve the purpose.

It is important to look at the relevant case law to understand how the courts interpret Section 36, as well as the balance problem between human dignity and freedom of expression, which are in direct conflict, especially when harmful, untrue statements are published in the media.

In the Supreme Court of Appeal case of National Media Ltd and Others v Bogoshi the court adopted the attitude that, although there is no constitutional value in false statements of fact, an erroneous statement of fact is nevertheless inevitable in free debate. The publication in the press of a false, defamatory allegation of fact will not be regarded as unlawful if, upon consideration of all the circumstances of the case, it is found to have been reasonable. When a court considers the reasonableness of the publication it will take into account the nature, extent and tone of the allegations, and “greater latitude” will usually be allowed in respect of political discussion. The Court held that the press should bear the onus of showing that the publication was reasonable under these circumstances.

The consequence of the Bogoshi judgement is that if a newspaper can show that a decision to publish was reasonable and justifiable, it will be able to avoid liability even in circumstances where the statements are false.

This reasoning was developed further in Sankie Mthembi-Mahanyele v Mail & Guardian Limited  where it was held that justifiability is to be determined by having regard for all relevant circumstances, including the interest of the public in being informed; the manner of publication; the tone of the material published; the extent of public concern about the information; the reliability of the source; the steps taken to verify the truth of the information (this factor would play an important role, too, in considering the distinct question whether there was negligence on the part of the press, assuming that the publication was found to be defamatory); and whether the person defamed has been given the opportunity to comment on the statement before publication. In cases where information is crucial to the public, and is urgent, it may be justifiable to publish without giving an opportunity to comment.

These judgements make it possible to strike a balance between the relevant conflicting rights contained in the Bill of Rights.

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.