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June 24, 2020

Road Accident Fund’s liability extended to reach stackers

A reach stacker is a hoisting device for stacking, lifting and maneuvering containers in the container yards of small terminals or medium-sized ports. It can transport containers over short distances quickly and stack them. Reach stackers are equipped with booms capable of being extended and raised hydraulically. The vehicle has six wheels and is fitted with a rear-view mirror. 

In Road Accident Fund v Mbele (where a pedestrian who was employed as a stevedore at a multipurpose terminal died as a result of injuries sustained when a reach stacker collided into him) the Supreme Court of Appeal grappled with the issue of whether a reach stacker could be classified as a motor vehicle. 

In terms of section 1 of the Road Accident Fund Act, 1996 (the "RAF Act") a motor vehicle is defined as “any vehicle designed or adapted for propulsion or haulage on a road by means of fuel, gas or electricity, including a trailer, a caravan, an agricultural or any other implement designed or adapted to be drawn by such motor vehicle.”

The definition identifies three requirements for a vehicle to be classified as a motor vehicle under the Act. The vehicle must be:

  1. propelled by fuel, electricity, or gas;
  2. designed for propulsion;
  3. capable of being driven or operated on a road (it was held in Road Accident Fund v Mbendera that the word “road” in section 1 of the RAF Act is not limited to a public road).

The court indicated that the reach stacker in question was equipped with full road going lighting, including taillights, indicators, brake lights and reverse lights. Furthermore, it was fitted with windscreen wipers and washers, a hooter, and a handbrake. 

The court was satisfied that the three requirements set out in the definition of the RAF Act had been met. The court indicated that the reach stacker was designed and equipped to be self-propelled around the port along roads and over parking and storage spaces. Furthermore, it was confirmed that viewed objectively, the reach stacker was designed to be required to be propelled along roads within the port. 

In conclusion, the RAF’s liability was extended to include reach stackers as defined as a “motor vehicle” in section 1 of the RAF Act. Thus as the RAF Act aims to provide appropriate cover to all road users within the borders of South Africa; to rehabilitate persons injured and to compensate for injuries or death, this will now expand to incidents involving reach stackers.