Roman’s Transport v Zihlwele (13/2014) [2015] ZASCA 13 (16 March 2015) per Zondi JA [Cachalia and Shongwe JJA, Fourie and Meyer AJJA concurring]

On appeal from: Eastern Cape Local Division, Mthatha (Dawood J sitting as court of first instance):  The appeal was allowed with costs and the order of the court below set aside and substituted with the following: ‘The plaintiffs’ claims are dismissed with costs.’

SCA summary:  Negligence –sudden emergency – driver not negligent where collision caused by sudden deflation of the right front tyre – Evidence – expert evidence – evaluation – basis for the rejection of expert evidence.

[9]        The court below was faced with conflicting expert opinions on the issue whether the driver should have applied brakes.  It was for the court to decide which, if any, to accept.[1] Opinion evidence is admissible when the court can receive appreciable help from the witness on the particular issue when, by reason of his special knowledge and skill, he is better qualified than the trier of fact.[2] An expert’s opinion represents his reasoned conclusion based on certain facts or data, which are either common cause, or established by his own evidence or that of some other competent witness.  Before any weight can be given to an expert’s opinion, the facts upon which the opinion is based must be proved.  The court below, correctly disregarded Professor Dreyer’s opinion on braking systems.  He is a mathematician, not a mechanical engineer, and he conceded that he knew ‘nothing about the braking systems of the bus’, in particular the bus that was involved in this incident.  His evidence   therefore did not help the court.

[1] Jacobs & another v Transnet Ltd t/a Metrorail & another 2015 (1) SA 139 (SCA) para 15. See also Buthelezi v Ndaba 2013 (5) SA 437 (SCA) para 14:

‘Yet that determination is bound to be informed by the opinions of experts in the field which are often in conflict, as has happened in this case. In that event the court’s determination must depend on an analysis of the cogency of the underlying reasoning which led the experts to their conflicting opinions.’

[2] Stock v Stock 1981 (3) SA 1280 (A) at 1296E-F.