Court rules Mbombela teacher can sue education department for assault

Four years after the attack on Richard Prinsloo, a recent court ruling will allow the retired Hoërskool Bergvlam educator to take steps to sue the Mpumalanga Department of Education for R8m.

Prinsloo was attacked by a student in his class at school on March 5, 2018.

He reportedly made a remark about the learner’s recently deceased mother before the youngster attacked him. The attack took place in full view of the schoolchildren, who had to restrain the learner and lead him away from Prinsloo.

Prinsloo’s glasses were smashed and he suffered injuries to his eye, elbow, ribs and knee.

After the incident, he was subjected to a disciplinary hearing and later resigned from his teaching position.

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On October 20, 2020, Prinsloo issued subpoenas against the Mpumalanga Department of Education, suing for damages suffered as a result of the incident and for loss of income, totaling over R8 million. He said the department failed to protect him and/or provide him with the necessary support after the attack.

The department had opposed the claim, saying the claim lacked a chance of success, and was of the view that Prinsloo was obliged to claim under the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act (Coida).

The department further contended that Prinsloo’s injuries arose out of and in the course of his employment.

The department also argued that Prinsloo made a late delivery of statutory notice to the department of his intention to bring a lawsuit against a state body.

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Mbombela High Court Judge Takalani Ratshibvumo, however, said Prinsloo gave an explanation as to why the notice was filed late: he was unaware of this legal provision, did not was only interested in handling the disciplinary hearing and also needed to raise funds to instruct attorneys to file this claim, which he did not have at the time.

Ratshibvumo said in the decision that an “accident” is defined under Coida as an accident arising out of and in the course of an employee’s employment and resulting in injury, illness or death of the employee.

“As regards the facts of the present case, it is equally clear that the attack on the applicant [Prinsloo] occurred in the course of his employment,” the judge said.
He said the issue to be decided was whether the assault was outside of his job and asked what connection the assault had with the teacher’s job duties.

“That’s unless the candidate was a boxing trainer, which he wasn’t.”
Ratshibvumo further stated that the motive of the student attacking Prinsloo was irrelevant.

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“I don’t see how the assault of a teacher on duty at the school stems from his employment. I cannot conceive that the risk of aggression is incidental to teaching.

“The argument that the claim is prohibited by section 35(1) of Coida is therefore without merit, as the evidence presented does not show that the assault arose out of the claimant’s employment,” Ratshibvumo said.

He also ordered the department to pay Prinsloo’s legal fees for the claim.

The main case will be listed for hearing.

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