The scope of liability for product defects under the South African Consumer Protection Act 68 of 2008 and common law - A comparative analysis

Kriek, Carla (2017-03)

Thesis (LLD)--Stellenbosch University, 2017

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT : The South African Consumer Protection Act 68 of 2008 (‘CPA’) has introduced strict liability for harm caused by defective consumer goods. This represented a radical reform of South African product liability law, which had developed in the form of the fault-based Aquilian action. Section 61 of the CPA imposes strict liability on the producer, importer, distributor and retailer for harm resulting from unsafe goods, product failures, defects or hazards or inadequate instructions or warnings accompanying goods. It is argued that a statutory strict liability regime requires comprehensive and logically coherent regulation which should, in the interest of legal certainty, remain as consistent as possible with the existing common law rules. The CPA’s product liability framework gives rise to legal uncertainty in a number of respects. The study comprises a comparative analysis the CPA’s product liability framework with reference to its common law background and similar regimes in the USA, EU and Australia, identifying relevant principles, conclusions and rules to assist South African courts and practitioners in the interpretation and application of the product liability framework. Further, the study examines to what degree section 61 liability extends the scope of common law liability for harm caused by defective goods. Finally, the study investigates the likely practical impact of section 61 by reviewing judicial, semi-judicial or administrative handling of product liability claims in South Africa since introduction of the CPA compared to the experience in foreign jurisdictions. The study undertakes applied comparative research, which involves critically evaluating the differences and similarities between the South African and foreign product liability frameworks and drawing conclusions on the theoretical and likely practical impact of strict product liability in South Africa. The efficacy of the CPA’s product liability framework is measured against the following criteria: (i) the CPA’s legislative purposes (ii) fairness in balancing competing interests of consumers and the supply chain (iii) legal certainty, and (iv) flexibility to adapt to a changing consumer marketplace and technological advancements. It is argued that the legal uncertainty arising from aspects of the CPA’s product liability framework can to an extent be remedied by way of purposive interpretation, in so far as this is permitted by principles of statutory interpretation, having regard to the legislative policy underpinning the CPA and, where appropriate, similar frameworks in foreign legal systems. Further, recommendations are made for legislative amendment. The study concludes that introduction of strict product liability has been a significant step in the right direction in aligning South African consumer law with that of its international trading partners and will prompt higher levels of product safety generally. Further, it is likely that section 61 will increase the number of product liability claims due to the extended scope of liability and that the new judicial, semi-judicial and administrative bodies created under the CPA will deal with the vast majority of claims. However, it is the duty of the courts and legislature to provide these bodies with clearer guidelines on the interpretation of the CPA’s product liability framework.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING : Die Wet op Verbruikersbeskerming 68 van 2008 (‘CPA’) het skuldlose aanspreeklikheid ingevoer vir skade veroorsaak deur defektiewe verbruikersgoedere. Dit behels ‘n radikale regshervorming aangesien Suid-Afrikaanse produkaanspreeklikheid voorheen ontwikkel het in die vorm van die skuldgebaseerde Aquiliese aksie. Ingevolge artikel 61 van die CPA is vervaardigers, invoerders, verspreiders en kleinhandelaars skuldloos aanspreeklik vir skade versoorsaak deur onveilige of defektiewe goedere, produkfalings en onvoldoende waarskuwings of instruksies verskaf saam met goedere. Dit word geargumenteer dat ‘n statutêre raamwerk vir skuldlose aanspreeklikheid omvattende en logies samehangende regulering benodig, wat, ter wille van regsekerheid, so na moontlik eenvormig behoort te wees aan die bestaande gemeenregtelike raamwerk. Die CPA se raamwerk vir produkaanspreeklikheid bring in verskeie opsigte regsonsekerheid mee. Die studie onderneem ‘n regsvergelykende analise van die CPA se raamwerk vir produkaanspreeklikheid met verwysing na die gemeenregtelike agtergrond en soortgelyke raamwerke in die VSA, EU en Australië, en identifiseer relevante beginsels, gevolgtrekkings en reëls as riglyne vir Suid-Afrikaanse howe en regspraktisyns by die interpretasie en toepassing van die raamwerk vir produkaanspreeklikheid. Die studie ondersoek ook die mate waarin artikel 61-aanspreeklikheid die omvang van gemeenregtelike aanspreeklikheid vir skade veroorsaak deur defektiewe produkte uitbrei. Ten slotte oorweeg die studie die waarskynlike praktiese impak van artikel 61 by wyse van hersiening van judisiële, semi-judisiële en administratiewe hantering van produkaanspreeklikheidseise in Suid-Afrika sedert inwerkingtrede van die CPA met vergelyking van die ervaring in ander regstelsels. Die studie behels toegepaste, regsvergelykende navorsing, en in besonder ‘n kritiese analise van die ooreenkomste en verskille tussen die raamwerke vir produkaanspreeklikheid in SuidAfrika en ander regstelsels, op grond waarvan gevolgtrekkings gemaak word rakende die teoretiese en waarskynlike praktiese impak van skuldlose produkaanspreeklikheid in SuidAfrika. Die effektiwiteit van die CPA se raamwerk vir produkaanspreeklikheid word gemeet aan die volgende kriteria: (i) die CPA se wetgewende doelstellings; (ii) billikheid in die balansering van kompeterende belange van verbruikers en die voorsienersketting; (iii) regsekerheid; en (iv) buigsaamheid om aan te pas by ‘n veranderende verbruikersmark en tegnologiese ontwikkeling. Die studie voer aan dat die regsonsekerheid wat onstaan uit aspekte van die CPA se raamwerk vir produkaanspreeklikheid in ‘n mate reggestel kan word deur ‘n doeldienende interpretasie van die raamwerk se bepalings sover die beginsels van statutêre interpretasie dit toelaat, met verwysing na die CPA se onderliggende doelstellings en waar gepas, soortgelyke raamwerke in ander regstelsels. Sekere wetswysigings word voorgestel. Die studie se gevolgtrekking is dat invoering van skuldlose produkaanspreeklikheid ‘n belangrike stap was om Suid-Afrikaanse verbruikersreg in lyn te bring met dié van sy internasionale handelsvennote en sal lei tot ‘n algemene hoër standaard van produkveiligheid. ‘n Verder bevinding is dat die aantal produkaanspreeklikheidseise waarskynlik sal vermeerder weens die uitgebreide omvang van aanspreeklikheid, en dat die meerderheid van eise gehanteer sal word deur die nuwe judisiële, semi-judisiële en administratiewe liggame geskep deur die CPA. Dit is egter die plig van die howe en wetgewer om duideliker riglyne aan hierdie liggame te verskaf rakende die interpretasie van die CPA se raamwerk vir produkaanspreeklikheid.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/101296
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