24 April 2005

South Africa: SA Tour Operators Thrown By Ruling

Johannesburg — TOUR operators are outraged over a High Court ruling that found a guest lodge liable after a visitor fell off one of their horses.

British tourist Sandra Redhouse sued Howard Walker, the owner of Walkerson's guest lodge in Dullstroom, Mpumalanga, for R212 000 after her spine and knee were injured during a fall. T he court found in her favour, although the amount of damages has still to be determined.

Pretoria High Court Judge Ronnie Bosielo ruled last month that owners were strictly liable for the behaviour of their horses if they acted "contrary" to the nature of domestic animals.

Tour operators were this week alarmed at the implications for their businesses, particularly since Redhouse had signed an indemnity form.

Marena Badenhorst, manager of Sungulwane Game Lodge in northern KwaZulu-Natal, said the ruling was "totally unfair".

"You can't be responsible for the animals' behaviour. If you go on a horse trail, it's not a walk in the park. It's a dangerous sport."

Philip Hattingh, owner of five horse-trail businesses at Sodwana in northern KwaZulu-Natal, said South African guests were " happy with the indemnity form, but I don't think it satisfies our overseas clients".

Debbie Landman, who manages a resort in Mpumalanga, said: "How do we cover ourselves if the indemnity does not cover us? People can laugh at your indemnity form, that's what it boils down to."

Director of SA Bungee, Freddie Bovill, said every operator would have to shut down if the indemnity form became obsolete.

"They do have value. The only time it falls away is if there's negligence on the part of the operator."

Another bungee-jump operator, Chris Upton, said it was "naive" to think that one could hide behind the indemnity form. Upton, co-owner of Bloukrans Bungee in the Eastern Cape - which boasts the highest jump in the world - said protection offered by the indemnity form fell away if there was "gross" negligence by the operator.

David McQuoid-Mason, a professor of law at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said the judge had based his findings on an old Roman law that held that "the owner of a horse was strictly liable unless it could be proven that the rider was negligent or had provoked the animal, or that a third party had provoked it".

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