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.
This case concerned the difference between a claim for special and general damages. The court found that damages is a method by which courts offer monetary reparation to persons whose rights in contract law have been violated, as a means to restore them to the situation in which they would have been but for the violation. Thus, damages play an invaluable role in the capacity of courts to give solatium (compensation or consolation) to the parties. Therefore, the claim for damages will be premised on the cause or causes of the violation and the consequences attached. The court found that in order to succeed with a claim for damages the plaintiff must satisfy the court with credible proof that there has been a breach, giving rise to the cause of action.
The plaintiff claimed loss of labour, unrefunded deposits and administrative expenses in its claim for damages, constituting special damages. While general damages are presumed by the law from the invasion of a right, special damages refer to the particular damage suffered by a party beyond that presumed by law from the mere fact of an invasion of a right and must be proved strictly by evidence. Thus, if a plaintiff does not specifically plead his loss and prove it, he cannot succeed in a claim for special damages.
The appeal succeeds in part.
The dispute related to dishonored cheques that were issued for payment of supplies. After several cheques were dishonored, the respondents went to the premises of the appellant to recover the remaining products. The trial court award general, special and nominal damages. However, the Court of Appeal reduced the general damages. They also held that nominal damages should not be awarded when there was a failure to prove special damages.
The court dealt with three issues relating to a potential error of law when the Court of Appeal substituted their judgment for that of the trial High Court, failure by the Court of Appeal to exercise their discretion judicially and issuing a judgment against the weight of evidence.
The Supreme Court held that the Court of Appeal could not set aside the trial High Court decision when there was no appeal against the relief granted by the High Court or challenge against the findings made. The Court of Appeal can only set aside aspects of the judgment that have been appeal against. The Court of Appeal can only reverse a trial court if the trial court made orders that were oppressive, excessive or contrary to the law.
The plaintiff/appellant was aggrieved the Court of Appeal’s reduction of a damages award made by the High Court pursuant to its compensation claim for wrongful termination of employment. The Court of Appeal held that the award was excessive on several grounds – a finding that formed the basis of this appeal.
The Supreme Court emphasised that the court’s discretion to award damages must be done so judiciously. That the trial judge’s order was influenced by factors such as the size of the plaintiff’s family, the defendant/respondent’s instituting of a failed prosecution and delays in court proceedings – which the appellant sought in vain to attribute to the respondent – rendered the extent of the award ill-considered. Moreover, the High Court neglected to provide a terminating point for the computation of the appellant’s salary and allowances, which translated to excessiveness. Guided by the case law, the court fashioned a reasonable award which more closely considered the parties’ situation.
Deviating from the Court of Appeal’s order, the Supreme Court found it was unfair that payment of the appellant’s other employment entitlements was limited to its provident fund. It therefore altered this portion of the below court’s order to reflect that the appellant be paid all earnings, entitlements or remuneration which it was owed for the period of fifteen months after the wrongful dismissal. It similarly reversed the Court of Appeal’s substitution of the High Court’s award of three-months’ salary to one-month’s salary, finding that this reduction was unfair in the absence of any reasoning therefor.
The appeal was upheld in part.
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.