Research Articles (Private Law)

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    Regulating substantively unfair terms in online contracts
    (Juta, 2021-01-01) Van Deventer, Sanmarie
    The possible risks that standard form contracts pose to consumers have long been recognised. This article focuses on the impact that the online environment has on these risks, and it questions whether existing rules sufficiently protect consumers against unfair or abusive provisions in online contracts (ie standard form contracts appearing in electronic form). Several clauses which are affected by the unique characteristics of the online environment are identified and analysed. These include clauses relating to the use of personal information and consumer-generated content, clauses affected by the ongoing nature of online contracts (such as unilateral variation and unilateral termination clauses) and clauses affected by the global nature of online contracts (such as choice-of-law and choice-of-forum clauses). It is concluded that existing measures of control are inadequate to ensure proper protection for online consumers. It may allow suppliers to rely on generally unread terms included in online contracts to exploit consumer data or content, to modify terms without proper notice, to cause loss to consumers through unilateral termination, and to deprive consumers of effective enforcement measures or legal remedies. Proposals are then made for legislative provisions that aim to prevent suppliers from abusing online terms.
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    Problems relating to the formation of online contracts : a comparative perspective
    (Juta, 2022-03-01) Van Deventer, Sanmarie
    The formation of online contracts has enjoyed considerable judicial and academic attention in American law. Generally, American courts are of the view that the rise of online contracts has not necessitated any changes to the fundamental principles of the law of contract, although commentators argue that the enforcement of online contracts has stretched the requirement of mutual assent beyond recognition. This article engages in a comparative evaluation of these arguments, as well as some proposals contained in the American Law Institute’s Draft Restatement of the Law, Consumer Contracts. Ultimately, the aim is to identify whether the principles regarding the formation of contracts in South African law ought to be adapted or supplemented to accommodate online contracts. It is found that both legal systems subscribe to fairly lenient formation requirements. The possibility of recognising more stringent assent-related requirements, such as imposing specific disclosure requirements, is investigated. It is concluded that there is little to be gained by insisting on stricter formation requirements for online contracts in general, because consumers rationally choose not to read these contracts. Instead, recognising these concerns may provide the impetus for increased reliance on other forms of control, most notably regulating the use of certain problematic standard terms.
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    Inappropriately assessing appropriateness of class proceedings : Nkala v Harmony Gold Mining Company Ltd
    (Taylor & Francis Group, 2022-01-11) Broodryk, Theo
    Nkala v Harmony Gold Mining Company Ltd (Treatment Action Campaign NPC and another as amici curiae)1 is the first South African mass personal injury class action. The latter is worth noting because a mass personal injury class action presents unique challenges compared to other types of class actions, such as consumer class proceedings. In a personal injury class action, the extent of the injuries and the quantum of damages suffered by each member are individual issues. One of the challenges present in mass personal injury class actions is that, if the class consists of a large number of victims and each victim is required to present oral evidence to prove his or her damages individually, the trial may take years to conclude, and some claimants could possibly pass away by the time the court delivers judgment. It would overburden proceedings and cause undue delay.2 These are some of the issues which, as will appear from this note, were influential in the court’s questionable approach to assessing appropriateness of class proceedings in Nkala. In Nkala, Bongani Nkala and 55 other individuals sought certification of a dispersed incident mass personal injury class action3 on behalf of mineworkers for damages arising from silicosis contracted by mineworkers through their employment on the mines.4 The South Gauteng High Court granted certification of the class action. This note considers the approach of the Court in Nkala in dealing with the issue of the appropriateness of class actions as a certification factor.5 It is argued that, contrary to the finding of Mojapelo DJP in Nkala, sufficient commonality does not necessarily render class proceedings appropriate. Although admittedly there is an overlap between the certification factors, to determine whether a class action is appropriate a court would need to consider other issues and not just whether a determination of commonality would advance the class action. It may be that there is sufficient commonality, but that class proceedings would nevertheless be otherwise inappropriate. The note concludes by finding that, notwithstanding the court’s erroneous approach to this issue, it nevertheless reached the correct conclusion in deciding the certify the class action.
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    Reconsidering the state’s liability for harm arising from crime : the potential development of the law of delict
    (Juta Law Publishing, 2019) Wessels, Bernard
    This article evaluates the compensatory relief South African law currently provides to crime victims. To obtain compensation for harm arising from crime, a victim may institute a common-law delictual claim against the perpetrator of the crime. Because the perpetrator is unlikely to be in a financial position to compensate, crime victims have had to develop an alternative strategy. Essentially, they have argued that it is the state, rather than the perpetrator, that should be held delictually liable for harm arising from crime. More specifically, they have argued that the state should be held vicariously liable in delict on the basis that its employees culpably and wrongfully caused the victim’s harm, either by action or inaction. This article evaluates this development of the common law and argues that the expanding delictual liability of the state for harm arising from crime is undesirable. The common-law delictual claim is not the crime victim’s only option for compensation. The Criminal Procedure Act 51 of 1977 provides crime victims with a degree of procedural assistance in claiming compensation from the perpetrator and the Prevention of Organised Crime Act 121 of 1998 seeks to introduce measures to combat organised crime activities and provides for the recovery of the proceeds of unlawful activities. The article analyses the existing statutory mechanisms to claim compensation for harm arising from crime and finds that it is unsatisfactory from a crime victim compensation perspective. Against this background, the article suggests that it may be sensible to consider an alternative method to secure compensation for crime victims. From a comparative legal perspective, the most popular alternative solution appears to be the enactment of a statutory crime victim compensation scheme. The article examines some of the theoretical concerns that require consideration, if such a proposal were to be taken seriously by the legislature.
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    Judicial redress against a body corporate of a sectional title scheme for failure to comply with its maintenance obligations before and after the new sectional title legislation came into operation : discussion of Lyons v The Body Corporate of Skyways 2016 6 SA 405 (WCC)
    (Juta Law Publishing, 2019) Van der Merwe, C. G.
    In this case an elderly applicant, Mr Lyons, applied to the Western Cape High Court for an interdict obliging the body corporate to repair four of the five elevators in his sectional title scheme which had been out of commission for over two years. As it was common cause that the first two requirements for an interdict were satisfied, the court considered the argument of the body corporate regarding the third requirement, that there were other remedies available namely the convention of a special meeting to discuss the matter and the election of new trustees to compel the engaged elevator service providers to repair the lifts speedily. The court rejected this stance as an inefficient solution to the problem and granted the interdict compelling the body corporate to have the elevators repaired within a period of three months. In the second part of the article, I have shown that Mr Lyons would have been in a better position if he sought relief after the coming into operation on 7 October 2016 of the Community Schemes Ombud Service Act 9 of 2011 (“CSOSA”) and the Sectional Titles Schemes Management Act 8 of 2011 (“STSMA”) and the related Regulations. The CSOSA pertinently makes specific orders available to applicants in the position of Mr Lyons, to force the body corporate to carry out maintenance and repair of the common property. The STSMA and related Regulations oblige the body corporate to ensure that the administrative and reserve funds of bodies corporate contain sufficient money for the maintenance and repair of elevators. In addition, the Regulations oblige the body corporate to prepare a 10-year maintenance, repair and replacement plan for major capital items (including escalators). This plan would ensure that escalators are always kept in good working condition.