Separated issues and stated cases in litigation: The risks of carelessly defined issues

​​​​In the MEC for Health, Gauteng v de Lange (298/2023) [2024] ZASCA 38 (03 April 2024) case, the respondent's husband was admitted to Steve Biko Academic Hospital after sustaining a head injury during a rugby match. Despite medical treatment, he unfortunately passed away. The respondent alleged that the negligent conduct of the hospital staff, for whom the MEC is vicariously liable, caused the death of her husband and thus sued the MEC for damages.

Initially, the respondent claimed for loss of support for herself and her two minor sons. However, the respondent later added claims for emotional shock and trauma.

During pre-trial proceedings, the parties agreed to separate the issues the court would be required to determine, as provided for in the Uniform Rules of Court. It was agreed that "the issues pertaining to liability/merits (negligence and causality) should be separated from the issues pertaining to the quantum of the [respondent's] claim". The parties subsequently prepared a "stated case", which is a documented agreed-upon set of facts that a court can use as the basis for adjudicating a matter.

The stated case focused on issues pertaining to liability. To this end, the trial court found the MEC liable for 100% of the respondent's proven or agreed damages. This includes the damages suffered personally and on behalf of her minor children due to the deceased's death. The case relating to the quantum of damages was postponed for later determination.

Thereafter, the respondent sought to amend the details of her claim by introducing claims for emotional shock and trauma allegedly suffered by her and her minor children due to the death of the deceased and the associated medical costs. The MEC objected to the proposed amendment, arguing that psychological trauma should have been dealt with during the "liability trial", and that to allow this late amendment would result in prejudice.

The Supreme Court of Appeal found that the only issue the trial court decided was whether the hospital staff  was negligent and whether that negligence caused the death of the deceased. It did not, nor was it asked to, determine whether any damages (such as loss of support or emotional trauma and the quantum of those damages) were caused by the death of the deceased. The respondent would still have to present evidence in support of those damages allegedly suffered and the appellant would be entitled to contest such evidence.

The judgment stands as a warning to parties who wish to separate merits and quantum in personal injury disputes without considering the precise issues the courts will be asked to determine. This judgment repeated a caution by Nugent JA inDenel (Edms) Bpk v Vorster[1], which inferred that "In some cases, it might be appropriate for a court to separate the 'merits' and the 'quantum' of a claim. But to use that terminology when the causative link between the wrongful act and the damage is a contested element of the claim, as it was in this case, is bound to create uncertainly".

​​This is a reminder to litigants to take great care in crafting agreements around a separation of issues for trial. To avoid doubt, reference can be made to individual paragraphs in the parties' pleadings, provided that all the definitional elements of the case have been succinctly pleaded.

[1] [2004] ZASCA 4.​​

[2] It is clear that section 100(2)(a) of the MPRDA only empowers the Minister to "develop a broad based socio-economic empowerment Charter". It does not grant the Minister the power to alter, vary and/or revise such a Charter. Had the legislature intended to bestow such powers of alteration, variation and/or revision on the Minister, it stands to reason that such powers would have been specifically conferred on the Minister by the MPRDA. Needless to say, not providing the Minister with such power was probably a conscious step in the minds of the legislature to create regulatory certainty. In addition, section 100(2)(a) of the MPRDA requires that the Minister exercise his authority to develop a broad based socio-economic Charter "within six months from the date on which this Act takes effect". The MPRDA took effect on 1 May 2004. Mining Charter III was published on 15 June 2018; more than 14 years later. The Minister's amendment of the original Mining Charter, through the publication of Mining Charter II and Mining Charter III is, in our view, beyond the scope of section 100(2)(a), the empowering provision, and thus is ultra vires, i.e. acting beyond his powers. In additional, the MPRDA will need to be amended before Mining Charter III takes effect.​​​​​​​​​​


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Webber Wentzel > News > Separated issues and stated cases in litigation: The risks of carelessly defined issues
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