The Commercial Case Law Index is a collection of judgments from African countries on topics relating to commercial legal practice. The collection aims to provide a snapshot of commercial legal practice in a country, rather than present solely traditionally "reportable" cases. The index currently covers 400 judgments from Uganda, Tanzania, Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa.
Get started on finding judgments that are relevant to you by browsing the topic list on the left of the screen. Click the arrows next to the topic names to reveal a detailed list of sub-topics. Most judgments are accompanied by a short summary written by subject-matter expert postgraduate students from the University of Cape Town.
The respondent bought a piece of property from a third party. After the respondent had taken possession of the property, he became aware of the fact that his predecessor-in-title had mortgaged the property to the appellant. The respondent paid off the outstanding debt and thereafter demanded the release of the title deeds to him. Instead, the appellant demanded some authorisation from his predecessor-in-title before the documents could be released to him. The respondent instituted a claim on this basis. The trial court judgment was in the respondent’s favour.
After the respondent attached the property the appellant filed an application praying for an order staying execution of the judgment, particularly the sale of the property and ordered release thereof; before hearing of the application. The trial court dismissed this application.
The appellant eventually appealed to this court asking for the same. The appellant urged this court to allow the appeal, set aside the ruling of the court below and grant an order directing the High Court to retain the amount deposited as per judgment.
This court held that the order sought to be stayed was made by the trial court and there was no appeal against that order to the Court of Appeal. That being the case, it was held that it would be a wasteful academic exercise to delve into the merit of the issue. Consequently the appeal was dismissed.
The respondent sued the appellant for default of payment in respect of loans granted to the appellant by the respondent in the course of the appellant’s employment.
The appellant claimed that liability in respect of the car loan should not have been determined solely by reference to the formal contract. Instead, the court should have had regard to extrinsic evidence.
The appellant further claimed that the summary judgment granted against him by the court below was erroneously made as there was a plausible dispute between the parties for which leave should have been granted to the appellant to defend the action. The respondent contended that the factual situation representing the appellant's defence did not constitute a good defence on the merit to the claim of the respondent. This court agreed with the respondent.
The appellant submitted that his continued retention in the employment of the respondent was a condition precedent to his repayment of the loans and his employment having been terminated, the enforcement of the personal loans had been frustrated. This court held that this stance was not sustainable because the contracts of employment and personal loans between the parties were two distinct contracts and their duration not co-existent. Thus, the appeal was dismissed.
A claim by the appellant was repudiated by the respondent on the grounds that the deceased had misrepresented and failed to disclose to the respondent certain details of her pre-existing medical condition which materially affected the assessment of the risk under the policy by the respondent. The issue before the court was whether the deceased made a misrepresentation during the telephone conversation as well as materiality of any alleged misrepresentation or non-disclosure, does not arise in the absence of proof of the deceased’s pre-existing medical condition.
The court held that the respondent bore the onus to prove that the deceased had misrepresented herself to the respondent. The respondent also had to prove that the deceased had failed to disclose that she had received medical advice or treatment previously. There was however there was no clear understanding between the parties as to the evidential status of the contents of the hospital records. The court ruled that the respondent failed to discharge that onus to prove that the deceased did misrepresent herself as there was inadequacy and lack of clarity in the hospital records.
The court expressed that that the court a quo erred in concluding that it was not in dispute that the illnesses were noted correctly in the hospital records. The court also noted that the court a quo paid scant regard to the admissibility of the evidence as a result the parties had to file supplementary heads of argument.
Accordingly the court upheld the appeal.
Contract – limitation of liability clause – suing in delict to escape application of limitation of liability clause
Delict – wrongfulness – duty of care
The claimant/appellant purported to buy a property offered to it by the defendant/first respondent and consolidate the transaction with its purchase of another of the latter’s properties. This was proposed via counter-offer. The appellant proceeded to pay a down-payment for both properties after the agreed time-period, the bulk of which was unilaterally appropriated by the respondent towards payment for only one of them in reverting to the terms of the original agreement. Aggrieved, the appellant approached the High Court seeking layered relief to uphold the consolidated sale. The trial court found that, on the facts, the consolidation agreement was valid but conditional on the specified time-frame. It was therefore aborted as time was of the essence and payment had not been made in the required period. Judgment was entered in favour of the first respondent.
Challenging the trial court’s decision, the appellant argued that a binding agreement had been created, and the respondent had waived the issue of timeous payment when it accepted the appellant’s performance beyond the stipulated time-period. The court dismissed this claim, finding in concurrence with the court below that the failure to meet the time requirement – a term that was accepted by the appellant – thwarted the consolidation. No waiver had occurred.
Specific performance was unavailable to the appellant as the respondent had not breached their existing agreement. Its claim attacking the trial court’s jurisdiction to make an order regarding the transfer and registration of the property – directed at the second respondent – also failed.
The appeal was accordingly dismissed.
The appellant claimed that a letter in dispute was not a contract but a proposal which outlined the services the respondent intended to render and the billing details. The court considered whether the statement of claim by the respondent disclosed a reasonable cause of action based on a binding contract. The other issue was whether the costs granted in the lower court were justifiable.
The court held that there must be a cause of action cognizable in law. In that light, an action founded on a contract must disclose the cause of action and court must restrict itself to the averments in the statement of claim. The court also held that costs follow the events and are compensatory in the court's discretion.
The court did not determine the existence of the contract because a valid and enforceable contract is a substantive issue that should be determined at trial. The court also found that since the requisite factual elements were present in the statement of claim, a cause of action existed despite weaknesses and unlikelihood of success of the case. The court also found that the trial court awarded the costs reasonably and by the law.
Accordingly, the court dismissed the appeal.
The court considered whether the court below was correct in finding that the re-allocation of land was valid in law. Furthermore, it considered whether the below court was correct in finding that ownership could not be established, irrespective of a subsisting agreement and whether the court was correct in admitting inadmissible evidence.
The appellants alleged that they were staff of Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (‘NITEL’) purchased flats from NITEL and occupied them with supporting letters to confirm their purchase. They subsequently discovered that a portion of their land had been re-allocated and used as a car park without their consent.
The court found that a party for a declaration of title of land must show the court clearly the area of land to which the claim relates. The court found that the appellants did not prove their title by failing to prove acts of ownership or long possession.
On the issue of ownership, the court considered the five requirements for a contract to be valid, namely, 1) offer, 2) acceptance, 3) consideration, 4) intention to create a legal relationship and 5) capacity to contract. These must co-exist for a contract to be formed in law. It was found that a valid sale agreement had been established, therefore denoting ownership.
The court found that the admission of evidence which was made during the pendency of the suit was inadmissible and should not have been relied upon by the court below.
The court considered whether the second respondent was a public officer as defined under s 2(a) of the Public Officers Protection Act, 2004 (the act) and whether the revocation of the certificate of occupancy can be said to be for an overriding public interest as defined in s 28 of the Land Use Act.
This case concerned an appeal of the judgment of the court below, declining jurisdiction, whereby the appellant claimed ownership of the land.
It was argued that a minister does not fall within the confines of the definition of ‘public officer’ as contended in the act.
The court found that the act applies not only to public officers but also to public officials who hold their respective offices for, or in trust of the public, thus, the minister is a public officer as contemplated in the act. Therefore, a public officer is a member of the public service.
On the second point, the court held that s 28 of the Land Use Act gives the minister the power to revoke a right of occupancy for overriding public interest. Overriding public interest means the requirement of the land by the government of the state or by local government in the state, for public purpose within the state.
The court found that the revocation of the right of occupancy was valid and for overriding public interest.
The court considered whether the court below properly evaluated the evidence, and were they correct in expunging the evidence. Furthermore, it looked at whether the doctrine of waiver had been correctly applied.
This case looked at whether the revocation of the property as well as the sale of the property was null and void.
The court considered s 83(1)(b), 2(a) and (5) of the Evidence Act and found that a wrongly admitted piece of evidence is not a sacrosanct, it is still subject to scrutiny by the appellate court.
The court found that inadmissible evidence ought not to be admitted, even by mistake, and if it is, the appeal court ought to consider the case on the legally admissible evidence and preclude that which is inadmissible.
It is trite that the evaluation of evidence is essentially the function of the trial judge, where the trial judge has unquestionably evaluated the evidence before him and ascribed probative value to it, it is not the business of the appeal court to disturb such findings of fact, unless the findings are perverse.
In considering the doctrine of waiver, it was found that waiver means that the person in whose favour a benefit or right exists, is aware of those rights or benefits, but chooses to freely not take advantage of those rights or benefits. Thus, the doctrine of waiver could not be applied.
This appeal case concerns the sale of property. The appellant purchased Block 4BQ which the first respondent claimed is part of Block 1 which she previously purchased. The trial judge nullified the sale of Block 4BQ to the appellant. The appellant filed a counter-claim which was dismissed.
The court of appeal considered whether the lower court was right when it held that the first respondent, not the appellant, was entitled to Block 4BQ. The court held that the terms of the contract must be enforced and found that the evidence clearly implied that Block 4BQ was part of Block 1 which the first respondent purchased and fully paid for. Consequently, the decision of the lower court was confirmed.
The court also determined whether the lower court was right to dismiss the appellant’s counter-claim. The court held that the counter-claimant must establish the counter-claim. In this case, the counter-claimant failed to do so. Consequently, the court confirmed the decision by the trial court to dismiss the counter-claim.
This case concerns a dispute between property owners willing to sell that property and tenants of that property willing to buy it. The parties differ in their interpretation of what constitutes a binding contract.
The court considered whether the letters of expression of interest gave rise to contractual obligations between appellants and respondents. The court held that for the an acceptance of an offer to be valid, that acceptance must conform to the terms of the offer. In this case, none of the appellants satisfied the conditions stated in the letter of expression of interest in purchase of the house. Consequently, the court found that there was no valid acceptance and no valid contract.
The appeal court was also asked to consider whether the trial judge properly considered and evaluated the evidence presented before him. The court held that it is the duty of the trial court to review evidence and that it is not the role of the appellate court to substitute its views for those of the trial court unless the latter failed to consider the totality of the case. In this case, the court of appeal was satisfied that the trial court fully considered the case and, therefore, found no reason to temper with its findings.
The appeal was dismissed.
The issue determined by the courts was whether the appellant was an interested party in the suit and whether the firstand second respondent were owners of the property in dispute.
The dispute emanated from the decision of the lower court to award a certificate of occupancy to the respondents after their original certificate was revoked. When their original certificate of occupancy was revoked the land was allocated to the appellant who had built a shopping mall. The appellant challenged the decision to award the occupancy certificate to the respondents. It argued that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to hear the matter because of non-joinder of all parties whose rights were affected by the court’s decision. The appellant further claimed that their right to fair hearing was infringed.
The respondents argued that the revocation of the original occupancy certificate was null and void because it was in breach of the Land Act. They contended that they could not join the appellants because they did not know of their existence and they were original owners of the land.
In deciding the matter, the court held that the respondents knew of the existence of the appellant and had a legal duty to join the appellant in the suit so that they can be given an opportunity to be heard. It ruled that the court had no jurisdiction to make orders that bind a party who was not given an opportunity to be heard. The appeal was thus upheld.
The issue was whether the unilateral withdrawal of a bank guarantee by the appellant amounted to breach of contract.
The appeal emanated from judgement of trial court which found that the withdrawal of a bank guarantee by the appellant
was in breach of contract. The appellant had advanced a bank guarantee to the respondent to guarantee its trading capacity with MTN, a communications company for which it was a distributor. The parties agreed that the contract can only be terminated by giving 60 days’ notice period. The appellant unilaterally terminated the contract.
The respondent successfully challenged the termination in a lower court and was awarded damages amounting to ten million Naira with pre-trial interest. The appellant appealed the decision on the basis that it withdrew the bank guarantee after the respondent breached the agreement. It argued that the respondent’s claim was premised on negligence which had not been proven.
The respondent maintained that the appellant breached the contract by withdrawing the bank guarantee resulting in MTN cancelling its distribution agreement with the respondent. It further argued the delivery of termination was never proved.
The court held there was no evidence to show that the termination notice was delivered to the respondent. It found that the withdrawal of the bank grantee amounted to a breach of contract. The court ruled that it has no power to interfere with damages awarded by the lower court unless special circumstances exist. It found that the ten million award was too excessive warranting it to intervene.
The appeal was dismissed. General damages were reduced from ten million Naira to five million Naira.
Contract Law – payment of money – specific performance Civil procedure – jurisdiction - ratio decidendi
The appeal emanated from the advance of a loan by the first respondent to the appellant. The appellant deposited with appellant bank a certificate of occupation and a share certificate as security. The appellant then failed to repay the loan resulting in the sale of the appellant’s shares deposited as security. The appellant instituted legal proceedings against the respondent claiming that it was not indebted to the first respondent for any amount because the arrangement between the parties was a joint venture agreement and that the sale of the second appellants shares was done mala fide and without their consent.
The challenge was dismissed. The appellant appealed against the dismissal arguing that the trial court erred. It pointed out that the deed of mortgage was not properly executed and that the contract between the parties was invalid.
The respondent argued that the appellant was raising new issues not canvassed in the court below. It argued that there was a valid contract between the parties.
The court held that there was a loan agreement between the parties and the appellants did not complain of anomalies in the contract hence it waived any right it may have had. The court ruled that a party cannot raise new issues in an appeal and dismissed the appeal.
The court considered whether the invoice receipt issued by the first respondent to the appellant constituted a contractual agreement.
The court held that the requirements for a valid contract are offer and acceptance, consideration, intention and capacity to contract. Further, in the absence of fraud, duress or plea of non est factum, the signature of a person on a document is evidence of the fact that he is either the author of the contents of the document. Therefore, a court is expected to uphold contracts once the condition precedents are met.
The court found that the requirements for a valid oral contract were met and the parties intended the contract to be binding and enforceable. Further, the appellant had introduced the document which was admissible therefore had to rely on all the contents of the document. On whether the receipt issued for purchasing the vehicle constituted a valid contract, the court found that construing the receipt as a contract was an error in law. The court also found that the appellant intended to buy the car he purchased from the first respondent and only changed his mind when he had the duty to pay the balance.
Accordingly, the court dismissed the appeal and awarded costs to the respondent.
The court considered whether the second respondent was an agent of the appellants and entitled to a commission.
The court held that an agency is a fiduciary relationship created when a principal gives authority to an agent to act on his behalf which is accepted by the agent. The court also held that for a real estate agent to claim commission they must show that there was an introduction of a purchaser which was an efficient cause in bringing about the sale of a property. Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners 2007 Rule 7(2)(b) does not forbid a legal practitioner from engaging in the business of a commission agent.
The court found that there was no illegality in the agency agreement between the second respondent and appellants.
The court accordingly dismissed the appeal and awarded costs to the respondent.
The appellants, employees of the first respondent, appealed a decision against the lower court that dismissed the appellants’ suit claiming wrongful termination.
The court began its consideration of the appeal by assessing the implication of collecting entitlements by the appellants whilst their case was pending, and whether this estopped them from bringing a challenge against their termination. The Supreme Court held that collection of terminal benefits in respect of wrongfully terminated employment would not be a bar to challenging the wrongful termination. If a termination is wrongful then it cannot be remedied by the subsequent act of the injured party. The appellants were therefore held not to be estopped from challenging their termination.
The court held that the main issue for determination was whether employment of the appellants was wrongfully terminated. The sole witness for the appellants stated that there were conditions of service governing their employments, but failed to tender any documentary evidence in support thereof. The onus of proof rests on the appellants to tender the terms and conditions of service; failure to do so had dire consequences for the appellants’ case as it is a vital issue. The court held that at the trial the appellants failed to discharge the onus of proving wrongful termination and how the respondents breached the terms of employment. The appeal was dismissed for lacking merit
Second respondent was informed of a building for sale by the appellants with a 5% commission to whoever secured a buyer. Second respondent found a buyer but received no payment. He successfully claimed payment in the lower court, which the appellants appealed.
The issue was whether the second respondent was an agent of the appellants and entitled to the commission claimed.
Agency is created when the principal authorises the agent to act on their behalf, and the agent accepts to act on their authority. The appeal court agreed that the second respondent began acting as agent immediately after being given the sale price and rate of commission. The first appellant authorised several agents, including second respondent, to look for a buyer. The ultimate buyer was introduced to the first appellant by second respondent.
At issue was whether the second respondent could act as a commission agent or receive commission. He was not a qualified estate surveyor and valuer, or a member of the Nigerian Institute of Estate Surveyors, Agents and Valuers. Furthermore, a lawyer may not practice as a legal practitioner while engaging in the business of a commission agent. Though the second respondent contravened the latter rule, the court held that this contravention did not vitiate the agency agreement. A party who has benefitted from a contract cannot evade their obligations by relying on an allegation of illegality; illegality must be on the face of it. There was no illegality in the agency agreement.
The appeal was dismissed.
Appeal against the judgment in favour of the respondent for arrear rent with costs. The appeal was brought on two grounds: the lower court erred by ordering the rent payable in British Pounds (GBP); and the trial court erred in holding that the burden of proving non-payment of the rent in GBP rested on the appellant.
The first issue concerned the interpretation and applicability of the Decimal Currency Act (the act) on the mode of payment of the rent, which was fixed by the Deed of lease. Applying literal interpretation, the court concluded that section 1(2) of the Act related only to contracts entered into in Nigerian Pounds. It was not the legislature’s intention to constrict contractors from deciding the terms and manner of payment. Parties to a contract are bound by its terms and conditions, and a court will respect the contract.
Issue two as to who bore the onus of proving the currency of payment post-Decimal Currency Act, was decided in favour of the respondent. The burden of proof generally lies with the plaintiff to establish their case, however this burden is not static. The respondent adduced evidence of non-payment of rent, the burden shifted to the appellant to adduce evidence rebutting this, and in proof of the assertion that regular payments of rent were made. The appellant failed to produce evidence that payment was made, and that it was done in Naira and not GBP.
The appeal was dismissed.
The appeal stemmed from the denial of the appellant's right to defend on merits due to the lower court’s grant of an Order 14 summary judgement in favor of the respondent, without properly engaging with the merits of the matter.
Substantively, the court held that in a summary judgement application the plaintiff must bring a prima facie case for the claim, which includes showing the basis of the claim, before the burden shifts to the defendant to defend. However, a complete defence is not required but rather the defendant only needs to show that he has a reasonable defence to the claim and his defence is not a sham or intended to delay payment.
Since the respondent’s claim had been based on an agreement and an alleged assignment, the court reasoned that on assessment of the evidence the argument of assignment lacked the element of intent and thus could not stand. Further, the argument that the respondent was a beneficiary of the agreement in question was unfounded. The trial court therefore erred in its decision to grant summary judgment as the very basis of the claim was reasonably challenged on the facts.
The court thus concluded that the appellant had been unjustifiably been shut out of trial. It thus allowed the appeal setting aside the summary judgement.
In this appeal, court determined whether the representations made by the respondents in their letter of 3rd October 2013 constituted promissory estoppels with regard to the auction that took place on 30th September 2013. The court noted that the principle of promissory estoppel relates to representations of future conduct and not past conduct and held that the principle was not applicable to the facts of the case. The court also determined whether the application was made out of time. The court applied the rule in Order 45 rule 10(1) of the High Court (Civil Procedure) Rules, 2004: that such an application should be made 21 days from the date of the sale. The appellant made the application on 8th November 2013 while the auction took place on the 30th September 2013. The court held that the application was incompetent since it was made out of time. Accordingly, the appeal was dismissed and the judgment of the court of appeal was affirmed.
The court was confronted with a question of liability for undelivered goods by the driver of a haulage company contracted by the plaintiff. The meat of the enquiry focused on the issue of the effect of a failure to sign the delivery note on bailment. Having assessed the understanding and intentions of the parties the court reasoned delivery occurred at the moment of loading by the supplier, upon which liability passed to the carrier. The issue of the signing of the note or lack of by the driver thus bore no significance on the question of liability. Only sufficient reasons for failure to adduce the signature and evidence of collusive fraud by defendant would commute the carrier’s responsibility. Consequently, a claim of contributory negligence could not stand once loading had been made by the supplier as they did not have an express duty of care to ensure signing of the notes. Moreover, the mere loading was in itself delivery thus the plaintiff failed to demonstrate negligence.
Finally, the court dealt with the question of whether a contract actually existed between the parties as this had an effect on surcharges deducted by the defendant. The court found that given the nature of the contracts involved, the defendant had no contractual relationship with the plaintiff and therefore could not sue on the surcharge agreement as they were not party to the contract made for their benefit.
The court thus dismissed the appeal.
This was a dispute about interpretation of an employment contract. An employee of a church was entitled by virtue of that contract to long service leave, calculated with reference to his ‘basic salary’. The issue was to determine the meaning and scope of the words ‘basic salary’.
The Supreme Court of Justice held that while the lower courts correctly identified this issue, they had incorrectly found that ‘basic salary’ meant the total annual salary that the plaintiff was drawing at the time. The lower courts did not give consideration to the meaning and effect of the term ‘basic salary’ in the ‘conditions of service’ document, which defined ‘basic salary’ as a lower baseline salary amount.
The court held that in dealing with the interpretation of contracts the literal and plain meaning rule must always be applied within the context of the deed being construed and not standing by itself alone. Additionally, the court has a duty to give effect to the intentions of the parties. This being an employment contract, the proper approach of interpretation is to construe the words within the context of the whole document having in mind the scope and object of the document. Interpretations which would ‘render the meaning absurd, incongruous, unreasonable or unintelligible, or that will create hardship or inconvenience’ should be rejected.
The court held that in the context of the document as a whole, and it would be ‘unreasonable and absurd’ to conclude that the intention was to bind the defendant to a meaning of ‘basic salary’ that encompassed the plaintiff’s actual annual salary.
The appeal succeeded in part; the judgments of the High Court and Court of Appeal were set aside.
This case is centered around a dispute regarding land and the interpretation of various ambiguous documents, most importantly the will of a former owner of the disputed land.
The Supreme Court was asked to review the judgement made by the Court of Appeal and to ascertain the identity (location) of the land in dispute and to clarify its ownership. The confusion arose out of the illegibility of the part of the relevant will which describes the land. The court reviewed the evidence, not limited to the will, carefully and found that the location was clearly ‘Achim’, as the trial court had found, and not ‘Axim’. Consequently, the Supreme Court concluded that the Court of Appeal was mistaken in considering that a mistake was made by the trial court in arriving at its conclusion. The decision of the Court of Appeal was, therefore, set aside.
The appeal arose from the appellant’s contention that the judgment by the Court of Appeal was against the weight of evidence.
The court relied on the rule that the plaintiff in the contest bears the burden of production of evidence and persuasion to ground its assessment of the status of the International Rom (appellant). It reasoned that given the evidence, the true position was that the email which was received from the Chief Compliance Officer of Mauritius was intended to be an official record complying with the Act 772 and was thus relevant and admissible. However, considering the conflicting evidence, the court concluded against placing any probative value to the email and thus dismissed the contention that the company had ceased to exist.
The court also applied the rule in Turquand’s Case, formulated in the case of Royal British Bank v Turquand (1856) 6 EI & BI 327 which has been codified and amended in ss 139-143 of the Companies Act, Act 179 (1963) and common law principles to assess the party the defendants contracted with. It reasoned that since International Rom Mauritius and International Rom Ghana had been regarded as one entity by the first defendants, mistake could not be argued to escape the contract.
Finally, the court assessed the provisioned evidence particularly the cross examination to concluded that the claim of failure to allow for challenge of the evidence lacked merit. In addition, the court also held there was an undertaking to make the payment by the first defendant, a commitment which the first defendant did not honor. It was therefore urged by the court that the defendants pay the outstanding amounts plus interest to the appellant.
This case considered whether employees who were claiming compensation for loss of employment were ‘permanent employees’ in terms of an employment contract. The case additionally concerns whether the Court of Appeal had misdirected itself with regards to the weight of evidence.
The plaintiffs contended that they were employed by the respondent as permanent employees in terms of an employment contract. The respondent subsequently went into liquidation and the plaintiffs claimed for loss of compensation.
The court held that for a plaintiff to be entitled to benefits as an ex-employee, they should spell out clearly the terms of their employment as contained in their contract of employment and then prove their entitlements under those terms. The plaintiffs assume the burden of persuasion and producing evidence, however, it was clear that they were unable to produce a written agreement which spells out their terms of employment. The court found that any contract of employment for more than six months which was not in writing was unenforceable.
The plaintiffs had been employed for 10 and 12 years respectively, but failed to obtain letters of appointment. It became apparent that they were only employed for the duration that they were engaged on a particular voyage.
The court found that to be a permanent employee one would need to prove employment through the use of a contract of employment, which was in writing and could be used as evidence to illustrate the terms thereof. In this case, the plaintiffs were only employees when the respondents required their services. Furthermore, the court held that the Court of Appeal had not misdirected itself with regards to the weight of evidence as the plaintiff failed to properly prove their claim.
The parties entered into a business transaction for the supply and installation of a saw-mill. However, the transaction was not covered by a properly drawn up contract. Furthermore, it became apparent that the plaintiff provided the defendant with a plant which was defective and not fit for the purpose it was intended.
This case considered whether the Court of Appeal had misdirected itself to the defects contained in the machinery, whether there was a breach of a fundamental obligation and whether the goods sold were fit for the purpose which they were intended to be used.
The court considered the Sale of Goods Act, 137 of 1962 (the act) and found that the breach of a promise under the act depends on the category of promise; either a fundamental obligation, condition or a warranty. Breach of a fundamental obligation or a condition entitles the party not in default to repudiate the contract of sale and if it is the seller who is in breach, the buyer can reject the goods. The breach of a warranty cannot lead to a repudiation or rejection of the goods but will entitle the party not in breach to damages. However, a party entitled to repudiation and rejection may waive their right and opt for damages.
The court considered whether the goods were fit for the purpose that they were provided for. The plaintiff sold the machinery in the course of its business on condition that it will be fit for the purpose of saw milling. A machine is fit for purpose if it is able to perform the task for which it was acquired, safely and for a reasonable period, before defects appear. The court found that a saw mill should not break down after 11 days of operation and therefore did not meet the standard of the purpose for which it was intended. The court found that as a result of the defect, the defendant was entitled to general damages as a result of the failure of the saw mill being fit for purpose.
The plaintiff/appellant unsuccessfully sued the defendant/respondent for breach of contract following the latter’s refusal to accept delivery of the relevant goods. Curtailing the appellant’s sizeable claim for special damages, the High Court awarded only nominal damages – an order later confirmed by the Court of Appeal.
At the Supreme Court, the scope of section 48 of the Sale of Goods Act (the act) was elucidated: the computation of damages thereunder may be either general or special depending on the circumstances of each case. General damages refer to those which are foreseeable without proving that special circumstances were brought to the breaching party’s attention. Special damages are those which are foreseeable by the parties at the time of contracting because certain circumstances have been highlighted which render the damages within the realm of the signatories’ reasonable contemplation. These must be pleaded and proved at trial.
The plaintiff’s claim for special damages for the losses suffered by the breach was not proven before the High Court and were subsequently abandoned. The Supreme Court thus took the plaintiff to be entitled only to general damages under section 48 of the act. To this end, the plaintiff did not lead any evidence on the multipliers which would entitle the court to award enhanced damages. Section 48 caters to the contract price/market price differential and not to a computation of lost profits. The plaintiffs failed to adduce sufficient evidence to merit the proposed determination of damages and so the nominal award made by High Court in terms of s 48 was adequate.
The appeal was dismissed.