WHAT HAPPENS AFTER YOUR HOUSE HAS BEEN BURNT TO THE GROUND?

There are definite steps that a homeowner will need to take if he ever has the traumatic experience of having his house burnt to the ground.

Over and above all the emotional and financial tension it causes in a person and his family, there will be several steps that a homeowner will need to take before the problems accompanying such an experience will be resolved.

The first step that needs to be taken by the homeowner is to report the matter to the nearest police station. The reason for this is twofold. Firstly, by reporting the matter the homeowner will receive the necessary case number as required by most insurance companies. Secondly, the conduct of the third party may turn out to be a crime, for example, arson. Thereafter the complaint will be investigated by the police and handed over to the prosecuting authority that will decide if the third party should be prosecuted or not.

The second step is to report the matter to the insurance company together with the abovementioned case number. Thereafter the insurance company will investigate the claim and decide whether it is going to accept or reject the claim. The insurance policy will determine the ambit of the insurance company’s discretion in deciding whether to accept or reject the insured’s claim. The reason for this is that the insurance policy will determine the rights and obligations between the insurance company and the insured. If the insurance company decides to reject the insured’s claim the insured will have two further options at his disposal. The insured will be able to take the matter to the ombudsman for determination, or he may dispute the matter in a civil court based on breach of contract by the insurance company.

The third step will be to indemnify the insured if the claim is accepted by the insurance company. The amount that the insurance will pay out to the insured will once again be determined by the terms and conditions of the insurance policy. If the insurance company rejects the insured’s claim or if the insured decides not to claim from the insurance company, then the insured will be able to institute action against the third party if he can prove that the house was burned down as a result of the intentional or negligent conduct or omission by the third party or, alternatively, that the house was burned down as a result of a breach of a contractual obligation between the homeowner and the third party, had a contract been in place.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice.

THE LIVING WILL

Most  people are familiar with a will or testament and understand the importance of having this legal declaration drafted, by which the testator nominates an executor to manage his or her estate and provide for the distribution of his or her property to beneficiaries when he or she dies.

But how many people have considered drafting a living will?

A living will does not deal with assets, heirs and beneficiaries, but with the philosophy of death and dying, and should be considered carefully and drafted by a professional.

A living will is a legal document expressing a person’s wishes regarding life-prolonging medical treatment when that person can no longer voice his or her wishes.  It is also referred to as an advance medical directive.

A typical clause in a living will would read as follows:

If the time comes when I can no longer take part in decisions for my own future, let this declaration stand as my directive.

If I suffer from physical illness or impairment expected to cause me severe distress, rendering  me incapable of rational existence, from which there is no reasonable prospect of recovery,  I withhold my consent to be kept alive by artificial means and do not give my consent to any form of tube-feeding when I am dying; and I request that I receive whatever quantity of drugs and intravenous fluids as may be required to keep me comfortable and  free from pain  even if the moment of death is hastened. I withhold my consent to any attempt at resuscitation, should my heart and breathing stop and my prognosis is hopeless.

The living will tells the doctor and family that the patient does not consent to being kept alive artificially. It speaks for the patient at a time when the patient may be unable to communicate.

South African law and most religions accepts the validity of the living will, but none of the main religions accept euthanasia.

Euthanasia is against the law. Sean Davison, the respected UWC professor who helped his 85-year-old terminally ill mother, Patricia Ferguson, die in New Zealand by preparing a lethal dose of morphine, was arrested in New Zealand in September 2010 on an attempted murder charge.

It is important to have a properly drafted, legal living will to avoid far reaching and traumatic consequences for the loved ones that stay behind.

Many lawyers who practice in the area of estate planning include a living will and a health care power of attorney in their package of estate planning documents.

The advantages of a living will

  1. The directives respect the patient’s human rights, and in particular his or her right to reject medical treatment.
  2. It encourages full discussion about end-of-life decisions.
  3. It also means that the medical staff and caregivers are aware of the patient’s wishes, and knowing what the patient wants means that doctors are more likely to give appropriate treatment.
  4. It will avoid the situation where the patient’s family and friends have to take the difficult decisions.

Disadvantages of  a living will

  1.  Drafting this document  can  be very depressing.
  2. The person may still be healthy and not in a position to actually imagine that he or she could ever be in the position where they would voluntarily give up living.
  3. When the time comes to act on the living will the patient might have changed his or her mind and it is then often difficult to amend the document.

Important points to consider

  1. The living will should not be incorporated or attached to the last will and testament, which is only acted upon after death.
  2. A living will does not become effective unless the patient becomes incapacitated; until then the patient will be able to choose appropriate treatment.
  3. A certificate by the patient’s doctor and another independent doctor certifying that the patient is either suffering from a terminal illness or permanently unconscious, is required before the living will becomes effective. In the case of a heart attack, the living will does not take effect. A living will is only executed when ultimate recovery is hopeless.
  4. You have to notify your doctor and family of your living will and preferably have copies of the document available for the doctor, hospital  and  family.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice.

CANCELLATION OF THAT GYMNASIUM CONTRACT

We have all made New Year’s Resolutions. This year I will start exercising, eating healthy and spend less time at the office and more with the family. In order to fulfil this resolution, you join the local gymnasium as soon as you return from your December holiday. It does not bother you whether the agreement is for two, three or four years. This year you are going to keep that resolution!

Then winter arrives and you spend more time at the office and at the fireside and less time in the gymnasium. By August you recognise the debit order of the gymnasium on your bank statement, knowing full well that you have not been there for at least two months.

The Consumer Protection Act (“the act”) has limited the effect of fixed-term agreements containing automatic renewal clauses for a further fixed term. As the legislator has given a wide definition to the words “goods” and “services”, most fixed-term agreements will fall within the scope of the act. Section 16 of the act provides that any consumer may cancel a long-term agreement with twenty business days’ notice, which notice must be in writing, unless both parties to the agreement are juristic persons.

The act then provides that the supplier may be entitled to a “reasonable cancellation penalty” payable by the consumer for cancelling the fixed-term agreement. What constitutes a reasonable cancellation penalty will depend on the type and nature of the contract.

Lester Timothy of Deneys Reitz Attorneys uses the example of a mobile phone contract, an analogy most of us will understand. A consumer enters into a two-year contract with a mobile phone service provider and simultaneously purchases a handset to be paid by monthly instalments in the course of the two-year contract. The service provider will thus have incurred expenses regarding the handset. Therefore, in the event of the consumer cancelling the contract, it will be acceptable for the mobile service provider to charge the consumer for the outstanding balance of the handset to recover the expenses incurred.

Where a supplier incurs no significant additional cost as a result of the cancellation of the contract, the supplier will have more difficulty to establish the reasonableness of any cancellation penalty unless a discount is given.

You may therefore approach that gymnasium and notify them in writing of your intention to cancel the agreement after twenty business days. Depending on the remaining period of your contract and the wording of the agreement, you will have to pay a reasonable cancellation penalty. However, as the gymnasium did not incur significant additional costs as a result of your cancellation, you will be entitled to a discount on the remaining balance of the agreement.

Negotiate the cancellation penalty fee with the gymnasium. You may be surprised what the offer of an immediate payment as cancellation penalty can do.

And next year, rather buy running shoes, even expensive ones. They will wait patiently in your wardrobe till the following New Year’s Day …

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice.

RESCISSION OF JUDGEMENT

Imagine receiving the nasty surprise that default judgement has been entered against your name because of a summons that you have never even received. It is necessary that you know the procedure of how to rescind a default judgement to get you out of this unwanted situation.Many people are confronted with the unfortunate situation of a judgement being entered against their name, without even being aware that legal action is being taken against them. The reason for this is that when a party fails to deliver a notice of intention to defend a summons, a Plaintiff is entitled to lodge an application for default judgment.[1]

The reason for many Defendants not filing a notice of intention to defend, is the fact that they simply never receive the summons initiating an action against them. Personal service of documents by the Sheriff is only required where the matter affects a person’s personal status, such as with divorces and sequestrations. As it is not a requirement for the Sheriff personally, to serve a summons on a person, it can lead to situations where the Defendant never sees the summons, although the Sheriff stated that the summons has been legitimately served.[2] An example hereof many people who indicate their domicilium citandi et executandi or nominated address where notices are sent, in an agreement.

In the event of the Defendant moving, the Sheriff will still deliver the summons to this address, but the Defendant will never receive it.In the event of a Defendant not receiving a summons, certain steps have to be taken to have the judgment rescinded. The Defendant has to serve and file his application for rescission of judgment within 20 days after becoming aware of the judgment that was entered against him.[3] The Defendant (now the Applicant) is required to set out in an affidavit why the matter was not defended and what the bona fide defence is to the claim.  The onus is upon the Applicant to set out legitimate reasons for why the matter was not defended.[4]

When bringing an application for the rescission of judgement before court, the following principles are applicable:[5]

The Applicant must give a reasonable explanation for his default. The court will be unwilling to help the Applicant if it is found that he was aware of the proceedings against him or if the default was simply due to his own negligence. If the Applicant’s default is of a wilful or negligent nature, these will serve as considerations that the court will take into account when deciding whether an application should be granted.

In many cases an Applicant simply rescinds a default judgement to delay the inevitable. It is therefore necessary for the Applicant to show that he is not simply delaying the Plaintiff’s claim. A bona fide defence, in other word a genuine defence, must therefore be shown, although it is not required to deal fully with the merits thereof or produce any evidence in this regard.

Ultimately, the court has discretion whether to rescind the default judgment or not, based on whether good cause was shown by the Applicant.[6]

Although it involves an unwanted and often lengthy and expensive process, it is important to have any judgments against your name rescinded as soon as possible, as they have a negative impact on your credit rating. These judgements, if executed, will also leave you highly annoyed when the Sheriff shows up on your doorstep with a warrant of execution to seize your personal belongings.

[1] Magistrates Court, Rules of Court, Rule 12(1)(c)

[2] Magistrates Court, Rules of Court, Rule 9(3)

[3] Magistrates Court, Rules of Court, Rule 49(1)

[4] Du Plessis v Tager 1953 (2) SA 5 (O)

[5] Grant v Plumbers (Pty) Ltd 1949 (2) SA 470 (O)

[6] De Witts Auto Body Repairs v Fedgen Insurance Co Ltd 1994 (4) SA 705

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice.