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Security companies to take heed of recent billion dollar damages award to rape victim

4 July 2018
– 2 Minute Read

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In a recent judgment handed down in the state of Georgia, USA, the jury awarded USD 1 billion in damages to a woman who had been raped at the age of 14 by an armed security guard employed by a security company without the proper licence.  The damages to be paid by the security company are believed to be the highest ever awarded in a sexual assault matter involving an individual victim.

In South Africa, a rape victim who sues for civil damages will usually be entitled mainly to general damages, which are paid as compensation for shock, pain and suffering, disfigurement, disability and loss of enjoyment of life.  General damages are granted on a case-by-case basis and are at the discretion of the judge, although awards made in previous, comparable cases often play a big role.

The Western Cape High Court recently made the highest damages award yet in a civil case relating to sexual assault in South Africa. In Bridgman NO v Witzenberg Municipality 2017 (3) SA 435 (WCC), the Court awarded the present-day value of ZAR 840 000 (approximately USD 66 000) to a woman with a mild mental disability who was raped by three men at a holiday resort owned by the municipality.

In South Africa, companies can be made to pay large damages for these kinds of acts by their employees either because the employees were acting in the course and scope of their employment or because, like the security company in Georgia, they themselves were negligent.

Elsewhere, in what was called a landmark judgment, a Scottish court awarded a rape victim GBP 100 000 last year. 

It is imperative for companies that employ large numbers of employees, who exercise their roles without direct supervision, to take steps to screen employees as thoroughly as possible.  Sufficient public liability cover must also be procured. 

In light of the massive USA award, the relatively recent large Western Cape award, and the possibility that awards may be trending upwards, it might be a good time for companies exposed to these kinds of risks to ensure that they are sufficiently covered.