Faktore en beleidsoorwegings by die bepaling van 'n kontraksparty se regsplig teenoor 'n derde party : 'n kritiese bespreking van Viv's Tippers (Pty) Ltd v Pha Phama Staff Services (Pty) Ltd t/a Pha Phama Security 2010 4 SA 455 (HHA)

Wessels, A. Bernard (2012-12)

The original publication is available at http://www.litnet.co.za/

Article

OPSOMMING: In die onderhawige saak het die eiser ingevolge ’n huurkontrak sy motorvoertuig aan ’n konstruksiemaatskappy verhuur. Die konstruksiemaatskappy het op sy beurt ’n sekuriteitsmaatskappy aangestel om die konstruksieperseel te beveilig. Nadat die eiser se voertuig van die perseel gesteel is, stel hy ’n deliktuele skadevergoedingseis teen die sekuriteitsmaatskappy in. Die hoogste hof van appèl klassifiseer die diefstal van die eiser se motorvoertuig as suiwer ekonomiese verlies. Aangesien die veroorsaking van suiwer ekonomiese verlies nie as prima facie onregmatig beskou word nie, moes die hof bepaal of die sekuriteitsmaatskappy volgens die regsopvattings van die gemeenskap ’n regsplig opgelê kan word, en indien wel, of die nienakoming van sodanige plig onredelik was. Die beantwoording van hierdie vrae het onder andere vereis dat die hof allerlei relevante beleidsoorwegings en faktore moes ondersoek ten einde te bepaal of die verweerder se optrede as onregmatig beskou kan word. Binne hierdie konteks moes die hof ook die verdere vraag ontleed: Wat is die impak van die uitsluitingsklousule in die sekuriteitskontrak op die oplegging van ’n regsplig teenoor ’n niekontrakterende derde party? Daar word aangevoer dat die hof nie die nodige aandag aan die volgende faktore en beleidsoorwegings verleen het nie: (a) die beheer wat die sekuriteitsmaatskappy oor die perseel asook die gesteelde voertuig uitgeoefen het; (b) die redelike voorsienbaarheid van die ekonomiese verlies wat volgens die hoogste hof van appèl se eie vroeëre bevindinge wél relevant is by die onregmatigheidsondersoek en wat grotendeels die hof se vrees vir onbeperkte aanspreeklikheid kon besweer; (c) die praktiese stappe wat die sekuriteitsmaatskappy kon gedoen het om die intrede van die verlies te vermy; (d) die omvang van die risiko van intrede van die verlies; en (e) die skep van ’n redelike verwagting by die voertuigeienaar dat sy belange beskerm sou word – iets wat die sekuriteitsmaatskappy ook redelikerwys kon voorsien het. Daar word verder aangevoer dat die hof oordrewe klem plaas op die eiser se onvermoë om sigself behoorlik te beskerm teen die intrede van enige skade aan sy voertuie en dat die erkenning van die skadevergoedingseis nie in hierdie geval sou lei tot onbeperkte aanspreeklikheid nie. Laastens word aangevoer dat sekuriteitskontrak wel ’n belangrike faktor is wat in ag geneem moet word by die bepaling van ’n regsplig. Daar word egter voorgehou dat die implikasie van die uitspraak, naamlik dat ’n uitsluitingsklousule kan funksioneer as ’n beding ten laste van ’n niekontrakterende derde party wat onafhanklik van die kontraktuele verhouding tussen die perseel-okkupeerder en sekuriteitsmaatskappy staan, nie wenslik is nie. Alhoewel die bepalings van ’n kontrak ’n bepalende faktor by die onregmatigheidsvraagstuk is, volg dit nie dat sodanige kontrak ook bindend is ten opsigte van niekontrakterende derde partye nie. In die laaste paragraaf word gekyk na die benaderings wat in ander jurisdiksies oor hierdie netelige kwessie gevolg word.

ABSTRACT: In the present case the plaintiff concluded a lease agreement with one Lone Rock, a construction company, in terms of which it leased several of its trucks to Lone Rock. Subsequent to the conclusion of the lease agreement, and on the insistence of the plaintiff, Lone Rock entered into a security services agreement with the defendant, a security services company, according to which the defendant was obliged to provide security services at Lone Rock’s construction site. The security services agreement included an exclusion clause in terms of which the defendant could not be held liable for any harm or loss arising from the provision of the security services. Following the theft of one of its trucks from the premises the plaintiff instituted a delictual claim for damages against the defendant. The court of first instance denied the plaintiff a remedy and, on appeal, the supreme court of appeal dismissed the plaintiff’s claim, holding that the exclusion clause in the security services agreement operated effectively as against the non-contracting plaintiff. Furthermore, the court held that the theft of the plaintiff’s truck constituted pure economic loss, which, since its causation is not considered to be prima facie wrongful, required the plaintiff to prove that the defendant had a legal duty to the plaintiff to prevent the pure economic loss. The court held that the plaintiff could not prove the existence of such legal duty and that, accordingly, it could not be said that the defendant’s conduct was wrongful for the purposes of the law of delict. In this article the decision of the supreme court of appeal is analysed along the following grounds: Was the court correct in classifying the loss as purely economic? If the harm suffered was indeed purely economic, did the court come to the right conclusion when it decided that no legal duty to prevent such harm was owed by the defendant to the plaintiff? Was the court correct in holding that the contractual exclusion clause operated against non-contracting parties? First, it is argued that the court’s classification of the theft as purely economic loss is incorrect. This argument has since also been recognised in a subsequent judgement of the supreme court of appeal, Freddy Hirsch Group (Pty) Ltd v Chickenland (Pty) Ltd. Secondly, it is contended that the court came to the wrong conclusion with respect to wrongfulness. This argument is based on a thorough application of the standard test for wrongfulness in the South African law of delict, the so-called boni mores test. According to this test, a court confronted with the causation of pure economic loss should launch an inquiry into the following question: Taking into account the legal convictions of the community, was the causation of the harm unreasonable in the specific circumstances? In order to find unreasonableness, the court must further enquire as to whether there was a legal duty on the plaintiff to prevent the harm. To answer these questions there are a series of factors and policy considerations, which have crystallised in a number of previous cases, which the court may take into account. However, in casu, the court failed to take cognisance of the following relevant factors and policy considerations: (a) the defendant was in control of the plaintiff’s trucks; (b) the plaintiff also had control over the construction site, which was situated in a crime-stricken area; (c) considering the nature of the defendant’s services, as well as the specific facts of the case (not least the manner in which the theft occurred, i.e. by two unknown men who, completely unannounced, showed up at the construction site on a Sunday during a long weekend and gained access by providing the security guard with a forged letter of authorisation and took the vehicle out for a “test drive” after apparently providing maintenance repairs to the vehicles) the harm was reasonably foreseeable; (d) the plaintiff could easily have taken reasonable steps to prevent the harm from occurring; and (e) the reasonable expectation that was created on the part of the plaintiff that the defendant had taken sufficient measures to secure its vehicles and the reliance placed on the defendant as a result hereof. Furthermore, it is submitted that the court’s insistence on the plaintiff’s lack of contractual and/or insurance protection was exaggerated and, also, that the court suffered from a hyperbolic fear of unlimited liability in the present case: the plaintiff’s loss as a particular victim of an unascertained class was foreseeable and, it could be said, the plaintiff’s lease agreements with Lone Rock operated as a limiting factor in this regard. Lastly, regard is had to the role the court assigned to the exclusion clause. In accordance with the court’s own submission, and based on precedent, it is trite that a delictual legal duty owing to third parties may arise from a contractual agreement. The defendant’s security services agreement in this way also forms a basis for a delictual legal duty owing to the plaintiff, specifically taking into consideration the nature of the services the defendant undertook to perform. Accordingly, the court was correct in deciding that the terms of the security agreement were relevant in determining wrongfulness. In this regard, it is submitted, the court is in line with Longueira v Securitas of South Africa (Pty) Ltd, one of only two earlier security guard cases (both of which held the defendant liable despite the existence of a contractual exclusion clause). In line with the general rule of contract law it is further submitted that contractual clauses apply only inter partes. Although the terms of the contract may be a factor in determining wrongfulness, it is argued that the defendant’s security services agreement cannot operate to discharge it from a legal duty to persons who are strangers to those contracts. In the final paragraph, regard is had to some of the approaches to the same legal dilemma which have been developed in foreign jurisdictions, notably England and the Netherlands.

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