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The Supreme Court of Appeal has upheld a R1.7 million award to a widow from the security company that employed her husband’s murderer

Phillip de Wet , Business Insider SA
 Sep 30, 2019, 06:43 PM
Security guard
(iStock)

  • The Supreme Court of Appeal has upheld a R1.7 million award to the widow of a man murdered by a security supervisor at his office.
  • Security company Stallion had a duty to protect the employees of the building it guarded, the court said – and created the risk that its employee could abuse his special knowledge and access powers.
  • The security supervisor apparently fell behind in payments to loansharks, and attempted a petty-cash robbery.
  • For more stories go to the Business Insider South Africa homepage.

The security company that employed a murderer is responsible for the harm suffered by a widow, the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) has ruled, upholding a R1.7 million payment the high court previously awarded against the company, Stallion Security.

Actions by the security company – including giving its employee the ability to enter the office he helped guard without being tracked by a biometric security system – had rendered vulnerable the murder victim and had "produced the robbery" that led to his death, the court said.

At the same time the security company had assumed the duty to protect those working in the building it guarded from harm, the SCA said. This provided the "normative link" that allows the company to be held liable for the actions of its employee, even though that employee committed the robbery and murder for reasons entirely his own.

Security supervisor Ronald Khumalo murdered financial manager Deon van Staden in November 2014 after a failed robbery at the workplace they shared in Johannesburg. Khumalo had apparently fallen behind on debt payments to loan sharks, and decided to target the petty cash box at the Bidvest subsidiary Van Staden helped to manage, and which Stallion Security guarded.

Told that Van Staden did not have the keys to the safe, Khumalo made him transfer R35,000 to his account, then kidnapped Van Staden, and later shot and killed him. Khumalo was identified by way of CCTV footage and arrested. He escaped from custody, and is now presumed to be dead.

Van Staden's widow sued Stallion for what she said was its vicarious liability for the loss of support from her husband, while Stallion maintained it was not responsible for Khumalo's actions.

It can be difficult to hold an employer liable for actions by an employee outside the scope of their work, the SCA said in a judgment delivered on Friday – but South African law should be developed to consider "the creation of risk of harm by an employer".

Stallion had created such a risk by among other things giving Khumalo a key that allowed him to bypass a biometric security system, the appeals court said, and so "created a material risk".

That the company had also made Khumalo responsible for protecting employees such as Van Staden created the link between Stallion's business and the harm suffered by his widow, it said.

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