Injuries come into play

The Keurboom Park roundabout. Julie Luyt says the sloped angle of the ground contributed to her daughter's injury.

A Hout Bay mother is hoping the City will urgently address what she believes to be a “dangerous” roundabout in Rondebosch’s Keurboom Park after her six-year-old daughter was badly injured while playing on it.

Although the incident happened in January this year, Julie Luyt is still waiting for answers from the City about what will be done about the roundabout, which she says has been installed on sloping ground in the park.

The City has refused to pay her claim for medical expenses. She was told she should notify them of her intention to appeal this ruling within 21 days. She did this on the 20th day but did not submit the actual appeal until two weeks later. She was told later that the appeal window had lapsed.

City parks director Chantal Michaels told the Tatler this week that her department would carry out “additional investigations” at Keurboom Park to assess the conditions of the ground on which the roundabout is located.

In respect of Ms Luyt’s claim, however, the City has not budged.

“The City’s insurance department repudiated the claim based on the fact that, according to City parks, the roundabout was in fully functional order. The claimant (Ms Luyt) submitted an appeal, however, it was dismissed based on late submission,” said deputy mayor and mayoral committee member for finance, Ian Neilson

On Thursday January 28, Ms Luyt took her daughter Kate to Keurboom Park.

While playing on the roundabout, she lost her footing and her leg became trapped underneath it.

“We phoned the police, but, unfortunately, they couldn’t help. Other mothers gathered round and also tried to see what they could do. Eventually, I called Discovery (medical aid) and they sent out a paramedic, who also attempted to free her but wasn’t able to move the roundabout due to the slope the roundabout has been installed on,” Ms Luyt said.

“My daughter was in a serious amount of pain. Even when people would come over to the roundabout she would scream as just people touching it would put pressure on her wound. Eventually, the fire department came and managed to free Kate’s leg using the jaws-of-life, and she was taken to Vincent Pallotti Hospital for treatment.”

While Kate’s wound had healed in the months since, the mental scarring of her ordeal remained, her mother said.

“She still has nightmares about the incident. We have been back to the park once, but she refused to go on the roundabout. The thing is I have heard other parents complaining about it (roundabout).

“This particular roundabout occurs on a slope, which means some parts are higher than others. I have actually been to other parks to take photographs of their roundabouts, and all are either very low to the ground or very high. Either way, a child’s leg would not be caught. At Keurboom Park, however, Kate became trapped because the ground was uneven.”

The Tatler approached one of the country’s leading playground equipment manufacturers, Gauteng-based Bokkie Playground, to offer some insights into the matter. The company supplies playground equipment, including roundabouts, to public parks across South Africa and the African continent.

The company provided documents showing:

* Playground equipment should be installed on level ground.

* There should be 1.5m of empty ground around the equipment.

* Playground equipment should never be installed on a hard surface, as a fall on a hard surface can result in a serious injury. Surfaces should be well maintained with grass or play sand.

Ms Luyt said aside from the uneven ground, the roundabout was on a soft tar surface and there was neither grass or play sand.

“The roundabout is on soft tar which has a bit of ‘give’ when you push it. The tarred section is then surrounded by gravel.”

Ms Luyt said her daughter’s medical bills amounted to R7 000, but it appeared the City had denied her claim “on a technicality”.

“I had notified them that I intended appealing the decision not to pay out, but they said I had to submit the actual appeal within the 21-day period. I have consulted a lawyer about this matter, and he said my only real option would be to sue the City. But that would be a costly exercise and I might not win the case.”

She first submitted her claim to Charlene Harmse, chief claims administrator for public liability claims, who allocated the claim to a staffer in her department, Jacob Adams, on Friday February 26.

Mr Adams wrote that in order to properly assess the claim, the department would have to “investigate all the factors that may have impacted on this incident. This investigation may be complex and take up to three months to finalise to the point where we can make a determination on your claim.”

On Tuesday May 24, Mr Adams emailed Ms Luyt that the investigation of the matter had been concluded and he had been awaiting more information.

Then on Friday June 3, Mr Adams told Ms Luyt by email that the investigation by the community parks department “failed to reveal any evidence of defective or unsafe apparatus in the Keurboom Park, located in Claremont that may cause injury, if used in proper accordance and supervision.

“Accordingly therefore, and whilst indeed mindful of your loss/injury sustained, I regret to advise of my inability to accord you the compensation you seek.”

When Ms Luyt asked for the City to elaborate on its reasons for turning down her claim, Ms Harmse emailed her on Wednesday June 22, saying the City had “clearly stipulated” its reasons for the decision.

“We reiterate that during their investigation into the incident, our community and parks department could not detect any defective or unsafe apparatus and the playground equipment was in a functional working order. We further confirm that there is a disclaimer notice erected at the Keurboom Park /playground which stipulate that the use of the playground equipment is at own risk, which by implication would require that minors only use the equipment under supervision,” Ms Harmse wrote.

“We regrettably have to advise that we can find no basis on which you seek to hold Council liable for the incident and hereby submit that there is no evidence to suggest that Council and/or its employees were negligent.”

Ms Luyt continued to correspond with the City officials on this matter, still believing she had not been given a satisfactory answer.

Finally, on Monday August 22, she received an email from Melanie Cloete, who works in the corporate services and compliance legal services department.

Ms Cloete said written notice of the appeal and reasons had to be submitted on or before June 24.

“The appeal is therefore out of time as the notice of appeal and reasons were not lodged within the prescribed 21 days appeal period. Consequently the City considers this matter as finalised and will not engage in any further correspondence in this regard.”

However, Ms Luyt is determined to have the issue of the allegedly unlevel roundabout addressed.

“Somebody else is going to get hurt if this matter is not addressed,” she said.