Category

Delict and Civil Claims

Accidentally Paid the Wrong Person? Lessons From a R862k Banking App Error

By | Delict and Civil Claims, General Interest, Litigation

“There’s no such thing as a free lunch” (Economist Milton Friedman)

In these days of online banking and electronic payment, it’s not uncommon to find out to your horror that you have made a payment to someone in error, either to the wrong recipient or in an incorrect amount. If that happens to you and the recipient refuses to pay you back, what can you do about it?

The other side of the coin of course is whether the recipient of an unexplained and unexpected bank account credit can safely go ahead and spend the windfall (the answer in a nutshell is very strong “no” – if there are indeed any free lunches in the world, this is unlikely to be one of them!).

A recent High Court judgment sets out the requirements for a claim based on “unjustified enrichment”.

A banking app duplicates payments of R861,940
  • A couple were the happy beneficiaries of a malfunction in their bank’s “remote banking” app.
  • In effect they received duplicate transfers into their two accounts totalling R861,940 
  • The bank duly sued them for return of the money on the basis that they had been “unjustifiably enriched” at its expense.
  • Initially the couple denied that any duplication had taken place, but at trial they dropped their denial, claiming instead to have repaid the bank in cash.
  • The husband’s story was that he had paid a bank employee, since deceased, who had put the cash into a safe “in case a claim was made”. He was unable to say how much money had been handed over, he could not give dates, and no receipts were requested or given. Nevertheless his evidence was accepted by the trial court and the bank’s claim failed.
  • However on appeal to a “full bench” (a “full court” of three High Court judges, sometimes more), the husband’s version was rejected as “inherently improbable”, and the couple was ordered to repay the bank together with interest and legal costs.  
What must you prove?

The requirements for an unjustified enrichment claim are –

  1. The recipient has in fact been enriched by receiving the money (it needn’t be money, it could for example be an asset of some sort)
  2. You have been “impoverished” by the transfer
  3. The recipient’s enrichment was at your expense
  4. The enrichment was legally unjustified.

Once the couple admitted receiving the money without a legal basis, held the Court, the onus shifted to them to prove that there was no enrichment. So their failure to prove repayment was the end of their case. 

Don’t despair if the facts of your case don’t tie in fully with the above requirements – our law may have other remedies for you. Ask your lawyer for help.

Disclaimer: The information provided herein should not be used or relied on as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.

© LawDotNews

Your Dog, Cat or Cow (Even Your Bees) Could Cost You Millions

By | Delict and Civil Claims, General Interest

“Ignorance is Bliss Dangerous” (Internet meme)

Our law will generally hold you liable for damages only if someone else can prove that you caused them loss/damage/injury through your “fault” (intent or negligence). That seems fair and logical – if it’s your fault, you pay.

If however the loss was caused by your animal/s, you are in a much more dangerous position – you can be sued on a “no fault” or “strict liability” basis. And that’s a sobering prospect. It means that bad behaviour by Maxie the Mongrel, Skollie the Cat, Daisy the Cow, or even (per an old 1926 case) your “domesticated” swarm of bees, could leave you with a bill for millions without your being in any way careless or at fault.

Ignorance of that risk is very definitely dangerous rather than bliss.

A recent High Court case illustrates.

R2.3m claimed by a dog attack victim 
  • The claimant was walking down a public street, minding his own business and with every right to be where he was, when three large “Pitbull type” dogs attacked him, viciously and without provocation.
  • He was very seriously bitten and ultimately had his left arm amputated at the shoulder. He escaped more serious injury or even death only through the courage of a passer-by who fought the dogs off (and was himself attacked for his trouble).
  • The victim claimed R2,341m in damages from the dogs’ owner.
  • The dogs had no history of biting or attacking people and were treated as house dogs. They had the run of the owner’s house and garden/yard, which was walled and fenced off from the street. Access to the street was via a gate which was (said the dogs’ owner) normally kept locked, and was on the day in question double-padlocked.
  • An intruder, claimed the owner, had in his and his family’s absence broken the gate open and left it open – giving the dogs access to the street and to their victim.
Liability and the law
  • The victim was unable to prove that the dogs’ owner rather than an intruder had left the gate open, so had failed to show that the owner had been negligent in any way. 
  • But, held the Court, the owner was still accountable on the basis of an old Roman law – the “pauperian action” or actio de pauperie – which makes you strictly liable for the consequences of your domesticated animal’s behaviour. The thinking behind this ancient law incidentally was that “an animal (being devoid of reasoning) is incapable of committing a legal wrong” and there have been suggestions that it be scrapped in our modern law. But as of now it is still very much enforced by our courts, and you remain at risk.
  • Pauperian liability is a complicated subject (involving much Latin and learned judicial interpretation of ancient laws) and you will need specific legal advice if you find yourself on either side of a claim. But in a nutshell you are liable only if your domesticated animal (different rules apply to wild animals) acted from “inward excitement or vice” and against its natural behaviour. 
  • You do also have several defences available to you, such as the victim contributing to his/her loss through their own actions (provoking an attack or trespassing for example) or – the defence raised in this case – where the loss results from the negligence of another person. Again, a complicated subject needing specific legal advice, but out of interest let’s have a look at how the Court in this case dealt with the particular defence raised.
  • The defence in question is available if you can prove that a third party had control of the animal but negligently failed to exercise that control properly. The dog owner in this case asked the Court to extend that defence to cover his situation where the intruder had no control over the dogs, but negligently gave them the opportunity to attack the victim. 
  • The Court refused, holding that the defence only applies where the third party has control of the animal. The dog owner must therefore pay the victim whatever level of damages he can prove. So – bottom line – you are liable even when the fault lies with someone else, and even when you are completely without fault, unless that other person had control of the animal at the time.
Protect yourself!

First step obviously is to reduce the risks your animals pose to others. Then check that your insurance will cover you if you are sued. Disclaimers of liability need careful wording to afford any hope of protection.  

Disclaimer: The information provided herein should not be used or relied on as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.

© LawDotNews

Small Claims Courts – From 1 April You Can Sue For Up To R20,000

By | Delict and Civil Claims

The monetary jurisdiction of Small Claims Courts has been increased from R15,000 to R20,000 from 1 April 2019.

Not all claims can be pursued in a Small Claims Court –

  • Claims over R20,000 must be pursued in the ordinary courts (you can if you like reduce a larger claim to the R20k to avoid having to do that).
  • Only individuals can sue in a Small Claims Court, i.e. not companies, close corporations etc.
  • The State and local authorities can only be sued in the ordinary courts. Other than those exclusions, you can sue anyone including companies and the like.
  • Certain types of claim (such as divorce matters, some damages claims, interdicts, will disputes etc) must also go to the ordinary courts.

Even if your claim qualifies for the Small Claims Court, think of asking your lawyer for guidance on whether it is your best course of action. Sometimes even seemingly minor claims can have wide ramifications, and there is no substitute for professional advice!

Disclaimer: The information provided herein should not be used or relied on as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.

© LawDotNews

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