In South Africa, operational accidents and violent crime incidents on trains and in train stations have become commonplace.
By law, rail service providers are obliged to take reasonable steps to ensure the safety of those who use their services. Where negligence, or failure to implement reasonable safety measures, results in passengers being injured, the providers may be liable for damages.
Successful claims against PRASA
The state-owned Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) is currently responsible for most passenger rail services in South Africa. PRASA includes Metrorail, as well as Shosholoza Meyl and Autopax, which operate regional and inter-city rail and coach services, respectively.
Here we consider some examples of successful personal injury claims against PRASA.
Ngoqi vs PRASA
Sabelo Ngoqi was a passenger on a train travelling from Marabastad to Mabopane. Despite the train being full, commuters continued to board along the route. As the train left Kopanong Station, the doors remained open.
When the train stopped at Mabopane Station and commuters began to disembark, some passengers forced their way into Mr Ngoqi’s carriage because the doors to their carriage were not working. During the commotion, Mr Ngoqi was pushed and fell from the train onto the tracks. He was subsequently hit by an oncoming train and sustained fractures to his femur and right knee.
Mr Ngoqi claimed damages from PRASA, alleging that the operator failed to prevent the incident by not ensuring that all train doors were closed on departure.
PRASA blamed Mr Ngoqi for the incident, claiming that he failed to keep a proper lookout, placed himself in danger by standing in front of the open door, disembarked the train on the track side and attempted to cross the track.
Despite these allegations, in 2016 the court held that PRASA was negligent, and that this negligence was the cause of Mr Ngoqi’s injuries.
Mashongwa vs PRASA
On New Year’s Eve 2011, Sam Mashongwa boarded a train at Walker Street Station in Pretoria. There were no security guards on the platform or in the train, and Mr Mashongwa was alone in a carriage.
When the train left the station, the door to Mr Mashongwa’s carriage did not close. A few minutes into the journey, three men entered the carriage from another part of the train and demanded Mr Mashongwa’s wallet and cell phone.
Although Mr Mashongwa did not resist, the assailants hit and kicked him, before throwing him from the moving train as it was approaching Rissik Street Station. As a result of the fall, Mr Mashongwa sustained serious injuries to his left leg, which had to be amputated.
Mr Mashongwa claimed against PRASA, alleging that the operator failed to take reasonable measures to ensure his safety.
The court held that PRASA had been negligent in not ensuring that the doors of the train were closed before the train left the station, and in not deploying an armed security guard in the train to deter criminals.
PRASA launched an appeal with the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA). The SCA held that preventative measures could have been taken by PRASA at no extra cost, and that the fact that the train left the station with open doors was a failure on PRASA’s part. Consequently, PRASA was held liable for Mr Mashongwa’s injury.
Letabola vs PRASA
On 18 July 2011, Mongezi Letabola boarded his regular train from Lerella Station to Elandsfontein Station. As the train was entering Tembisa Station, Mr Letabola fell from the train onto the track and was hit by an oncoming train.
Mr Letabola alleged that he was pushed through the open door of the moving train by other commuters, and that his leg became trapped between the platform and the moving train. However, a platform marshal at Tembisa Station claimed to have seen Mr Letabola standing (illegally) on a link between two couches as the train approached the platform, and that he fell while trying to get from the link onto the platform.
Mr Letabola claimed damages from PRASA on the grounds that the train conductor and driver were negligent, that PRASA failed to supervise and control passengers on board the train and that PRASA had failed in its duty to ensure that the doors of the train were closed while the train was in motion. Despite the dispute about how the incident occurred, the court ruled in Mr Letabola’s favour.
Loutala vs PRASA
On 29 October 2006, Serge Loutala was travelling by train from Salt River to Nyanga. Just after his train left Netreg Station, a stone hurtled through a broken window into his carriage. The stone struck Mr Loutala in his right eye, causing him to lose sight in this eye.
Mr Loutala filed a claim against PRASA for failing to replace the broken window in the carriage. During the court case, PRASA alleged that Mr Loutala had not been hit by a stone, and its representatives denied responsibility if the incident was in fact found to have taken place. PRASA’s legal team also argued that windows in trains are for comfort and not safety. The judge who presided over the case rejected these claims.
PRASA was found negligent in failing to implement preventative measures to protect commuters from harm by replacing the broken window pane. Mr Loutala won his case and was awarded damages for his injury.
Claiming from PRASA
Any individual who has been seriously injured on a passenger train or in a train station – for example, due to falling or being pushed off an overcrowded train, being assaulted while on Metrorail property or falling over an obstacle on a platform or platform stairs – may have a valid claim against PRASA. Where a commuter has been killed using passenger train services, their dependants may claim.
If you wish to claim compensation from PRASA, it’s advisable to seek the assistance of attorneys who specialise in personal injury claims. Claims against state-owned enterprises like Metrorail can be complex and require specialist legal expertise to prosecute.
How DSC Attorneys can help
At DSC Attorneys, we specialise in personal injury claims and our attorneys have extensive experience in handling PRASA and Metrorail claims. We can assess your claim, help prepare supporting evidence and represent you in legal proceedings, giving you the best chance of receiving the compensation you deserve. We also work on a “no win, no fee” basis.