The Supreme Court of Appeal has found a Western Cape nature reserve liable for the accidental death of a visitor on its property, ordering it to financially compensate the dead man’s family.
He was one of three people who have died in the same place since 2007.
The widow of Cape Town-based architect Pier Alberto Za asked the Supreme Court of Appeal to review a decision by the Western Cape High Court that dismissed her claim against the Matroosberg Private Nature Reserve for the death of her husband.
Za died in June 2009 at Conical Peak, one of the highest mountain peaks in the Western Cape. Za fell 150m into a gorge to his death after slipping on the snow and sliding over the edge. He was survived by his wife Frederica and three children who were aged between two to eight years at the time of his death.
According to court documents, Za and his friend Benjamin Moggee went up to Conical Peak in the Matroosberg Private Nature Reserve on June 27 2009 to view Groothoek Kloof canyon after it had snowed.
The court heard that at the time the reserve had no protective barriers on the cliff edge and no signs to warn visitors of how dangerous the slippery surface could be with snowfall.
Rick de Decker, an expert witness in Za’s case, described the conditions near Conical Peak as objectively dangerous.
“By that he meant there was real and imminent danger which was unlikely to be recognised by those who have no experience of these conditions,” said Judge Frederik Brand in the appeal court judgment.
“But for the respondents’ wrongful and negligent failure to take reasonable steps, the harm that befell the deceased would not have occurred,” said Brand.
Another expert witness, Dion Tromp, recommended that a number of warning signs be placed to warn visitors of the danger of slipping and sliding on the surface if covered with snow.
Moggee, who also slipped on the day but was able to stop his slide over the snow, later testified that he had not been aware of the drop where the snow ended.
Tromp estimated that prevention measures could have cost the reserve between R50 000 and R70 000.
Frederica’s attorney Christo Potgieter said they will now apply for a new trial date to establish how much the reserve will pay in compensation.
Matroosberg Private Nature Reserve’s Didi de Kock would not answer questions regarding whether any safety features have been erected on the peak since the accident.
Attorneys West and Rossouw, who represented the reserve and the owner of the farm it is on, could not be reached for comment.
Za was not the only visitor who met his death at the bottom of the same gorge. According to news reports in 2007, Andrew Johns from Milnerton plummeted to his death from Conical Peak.
A year after Za’s death, Elaine Abrahams reportedly slipped and fell to her death into the same gorge. She had slipped from the parking area where she had been enjoying the view with her colleagues and son.