WHAT ON EARTH CAN GO WRONG?

This is the slogan of a well-known insurance company on television. A search on the internet will show that there is actually 6,300 tons of space junk that orbits the earth. Did you ever consider the possibility that this space debris can penetrate the earth’s atmosphere and cause loss and destruction? Who will be liable for the damage sustained?

The South African common law dictates that the person causing the damage will also be liable for the compensation thereof. Roman Law invented a rule that the occupier of a building will be strictly liable for harm caused by objects (for example shop sign) dangerously placed on or suspended from a building or over a public way in such a manner that there was a risk that it may fall and cause injury.

The Civil Aviation Act provides that, where material damage or loss is caused by an aircraft in flight, taking off or landing, because of any article falling from any such aircraft, to any person or property, then damages may be recovered from the owner of the aircraft in respect of such damage or loss without proof of negligence or intention or other cause of action, as though such damage or loss had been caused by his or her willful act, neglect or default. The damages claimed will for example include damages when an aircraft collides with your home. This concept of no-fault liability for surface damage originated after the First World War. The noise from an aircraft could also cause damages and relief under the common law would be provided, but it will be prudent to proof willful or negligent causation of damages. The noise of an aircraft may frighten animals or poultry causing them to rush against obstructions and so injure themselves.

Now what about a satellite falling from the sky? In 2009 South Africa ratified two international conventions in this regard. The launching state will be liable for any damage caused on Earth or to aircraft in flight.  The only exception to the rule is in the case of gross negligence in which case the negligent state will be liable.

You will however have a big problem if aliens were to cause the havoc.

For any advice on legal liability, contact Barend Kruger at 044 601 9900 or office@rgprok.co.za .

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