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Churchill vs. Premier, Mpumalanga - (04 Mar 2021)

In order to avoid liability under Section of COIDA, onus of satisfying the Court is on employer


In present case, On 5 April 2017 the Appellant, Ms Catherine Churchill, went to work as usual at the offices of the first Respondent, the Premier of 4 Mpumalanga (the Premier), where she was employed as the Chief Director: Policy and Research. During the morning, protest action over labour issues, organised by a trade union, the National Education, Health and Allied Workers' Union (NEHAWU), occurred at the premises and in the building where she worked. She became caught up with the protestors, was assaulted and mistreated by them and eventually evicted from the premises in a manner that was humiliating and degrading. Ms Churchill sued the Premier and the Director-General in the office of the premier (the D-G), the first and second Respondents respectively, alleging that her treatment by the protestors, including the assaults, was occasioned by their negligence.

There is no bright line test and the enquiry is always whether the statutory requirement that the accident arose out of the person's employment, as well as in the course of that employment, is satisfied. The court must analyse the facts closely to determine whether on balance the accident arose out of the person's employment. And in the last resort, an employer seeking to rely on Section 35 of Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act, 1993 (COIDA) to avoid liability bears the onus of satisfying the Court that the accident arose out of the claimant's employment.

In present case, the only connection between the incident and Ms, Churchill's employment was that she was at work at the time. The incident bore no relation to her duties and was the result of misplaced anger directed at her because of a misunderstanding. She was not assaulted because of the position she held, or because of anything she had done in carrying out her duties, or for any reason related to the protest action that took place that day. She was assaulted because one individual mistakenly thought she had sworn at him and he, together with others, responded by assaulting and humiliating her. Her injuries did not arise out of her employment. The appeal was upheld and an order declaring the Premier liable to compensate Ms Churchill for her proved or agreed damages was made.


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