South Africa
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Traffic cop shown ‘Stop’ sign over R4.5m court claim for ‘pain, suffering’

A Cape Town traffic cop wants R4.5m in damages from the city council for the “pain and suffering” he endured when he was fired for calling in sick on New Year's Day.

Richard Joseph, a traffic cop since 2002, spent two months at home in 2018 after being summarily dismissed for failing to produce a doctor's certificate to support his January 1 absence.

He appealed successfully and returned to work, but he sued the council in the Cape Town high court for R56,000 for two months’ earnings and R4.5m for “general damages for pain and suffering ... as a direct result of the charges, dismissal and defamation”.

Joseph's litigation stumbled at the first hurdle this week when a judge agreed with the city council's objections to his claim and gave him 15 days to submit revised papers.

In his original affidavit, Joseph said though he was reinstated and paid the two months' salary he lost, his credit profile suffered and he incurred interest charges on bills he had been unable to pay after his sacking. The “severe financial stress” also affected his health.

But Judge Ashley Binns-Ward said he had provided no proof of these claims.

While Joseph said his dismissal was “the subject of talk” in the traffic department which defamed his good name, Binns-Ward said anyone claiming damages for defamation must describe the words used by the defendant. "[Joseph] has failed to do so,” he said.

The judge also threw out Joseph's claim that the council instituted disciplinary proceedings maliciously, and said it had reasonable and probable cause for the action it took.

Joseph's request for two months' compensation was also thrown out — because he had already been paid it. “It is not at all clear what the alleged basis for the claim is,” said Binns-Ward.

Finally, the judge said Joseph failed to say in his affidavit which damages were claimed for the disciplinary charges, the dismissal and the defamation.

“The pleading seems to be directed at advancing a claim for malicious prosecution and defamation, but ... even that is not certain,” he said.

“The resulting confusion is compounded by [Joseph’s] failure to plead severally the quantum of the damages he claims in respect of what may be discerned as a multiplicity of claims.”

Though Joseph's court papers were drawn up by an attorney, he was not represented in court on Wednesday.