OK supermarket to pay damages to girl crippled by falling shelf

HARARE – The High Court has ordered supermarket chain OK Zimbabwe to compensate a girl crushed by a falling shelf at one of its shops – but the victim will only receive the equivalent of US$321.

Chidochashe Chiswanda, described in court documents as a minor child, has not walked since the incident at OK’s Hillside shop in Harare back in 2015.

Justice Ephraim Tagu of the Harare High Court found the retailer at fault and ruled that it created a “monstrous environment for customers.”

The 2019 conversion of United States dollar balances and all liabilities to Zimbabwe dollars by the central bank, with the concurrence of the Supreme Court, means that Chidochashe’s US$51,000 damages will be paid out in worthless Zimbabwe dollars at a rate of 1:1.

The girl’s father, Tizayi Chiswanda, stood for her in the lawsuit.

In a ruling made available on Wednesday, Justice Tagu said: “As to the particulars of negligence the plaintiff testified to the effect that the shelf was not properly and safely secured or mounted to the ground.

“He said the shelf had four legs and was not affixed to the ground.  He described the material used to make it which broke the strongest bones in a human body (femore or thigh bones).

“The conduct of the defendant therefore led to the physical harm to the minor child thereby to financial loss, caused pain and what is called external rotation of limb which he said was permanent.”

The incident occurred on February 15, 2015.

Chiswanda was shopping with his daughter when he heard a loud bang. He turned back to find his daughter under the shelf screaming in pain.

Despite the alarm being raised, the shop keeper’s stayed away from the scene leaving Chiswanda to seek help from other shoppers.

The court heard Chiswanda rushed his daughter to hospital where she was admitted.

When Chiswanda returned to the supermarket, he was introduced to two section managers. During an assessment of the steel shelf, it was discovered that it was propped upright with the help of a brick.

The two managers reportedly blamed Chiswanda for the incident, claiming that he was not paying attention to his daughter.

The managers claimed his daughter was attracted by some balls on display and tried to climb up the shelf which resulted in it falling down. But no witness among those who testified saw her climbing the shelf.

The judge said the retailer was at fault because it is not disputed that the shelf was not well serviced.

In court, OK insisted on paying at a rate of one United States dollar to one Zimbabwe dollar, citing Statutory Instrument 33 of 2019 which said “all assets and liabilities… valued and expressed in United States dollars… shall on and after the effective date be deemed to be valued in RTGS$ at a rate of 1:1 to US$.” This leaves the victim with the equivalent of US$321 at the official rate, and much less on the widely-used black market.

Justice Tagu ruled: “OK’s liability has been established some six years after the effective date. On the date the summons were amended it sounded in ZW$ by operation of the law and cannot be subject to any further conversion. OK be and is hereby ordered to pay to the plaintiff a total sum of US$51,982 at the rate of 1:1 as damages.”

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