Summary of Facts:
The legal journey in the case of Bisschoff NO obo Reyners v PRASA  ZASCA 160 involved a series of court proceedings. Reyners fell from a moving train operated by PRASA in 2001, resulting in severe head injuries. Subsequent surgical intervention led to traumatic brain damage, causing temporal lobe epilepsy, memory loss, aggression, personality changes, and a permanent loss of cognitive abilities and executive functioning. In 2010, years after the incident, Mr. Reyners initiated legal proceedings against PRASA. In 2013, a curator ad litem was appointed to assist him with legal affairs, and within the same year, the curator filed a summons against PRASA.
Trial Court Decision:
The matter proceeded to the trial court where PRASA raised a special plea of prescription, asserting that Reyners’ claim had prescribed, with prescription beginning from the date of the incident as per section 12(1) of the Prescription Act. The trial court held that the prescription period did not commence while Mr. Reyners was under a disability or impairment. Consequently, the trial court dismissed the special plea of prescription.
Full Court Appeal:
PRASA appealed to the Full court, where the majority upheld the appeal. They substituted the order with one favouring PRASA, concluding that the special plea of prescription succeeded, resulting in the dismissal of the curator’s claim.
Undeterred, the curator appealed to the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA). The SCA, however, took a different stance, overturning the decision of the Full court. The SCA criticized the majority of the Full court for assuming, in the face of uncontested expert evidence, that Mr. Reyners possessed the same cognitive abilities as a person without brain damage or disability. According to the SCA, this assumption led to a misdirection.
The SCA emphasized that the majority of the Full court failed to acknowledge the impact of Mr. Reyners’ complex attention and memory deficits. Despite having some residual capacity to engage with society, his ability to effectively utilize his intellectual capacity was hindered. The SCA highlighted the critical distinction between residual capacity and possessing the cognitive abilities required for legal action.
The SCA held that the majority of the Full court erred in their assessment and ruled in favour of Reyners, emphasizing that his disability persisted. Consequently, prescription, according to the SCA, began to run from the date of the curator ad litem’s appointment.
The legal saga concluded with the SCA upholding the appeal, thereby overturning the Full court’s decision. This case underscores the importance of considering the nuanced impact of cognitive impairment in determining prescription periods. The ruling establishes that, in cases involving cognitive deficits, the onset of prescription may be linked to the individual’s ability to comprehend and act on legal matters post-disability rather than the date of the incident.