Merryweather wins R11m in damages

Andrew Merryweather.

Andrew Merryweather, the Rondebosch man who was paralysed in a fight at a petrol station 15 years ago, has won R11 million in damages.

The Western Cape High Court ruled that Oliver Scholtz, the defendant, is liable for R11.4 million in damages and costs.

In the early hours of September 9, 2006, a group of schoolboys, including Mr Scholtz, then aged 18, got into a fight with Mr Merryweather, who was 24 at the time, Mr Merryweather’s brother and a friend, at the Engen garage in Newlands, after a night out.

Mr Merryweather claimed Mr Scholtz had spear tackled him into a stationary vehicle. Mr Scholtz claimed to have acted in self defence.

The fight left Mr Merryweather, now 39, with a fractured spine, partially paralysed and wheelchair-bound.

None of those involved was held criminally liable, but in 2009, Mr Merryweather and his younger brother, Nicholas, 34, who was also assaulted by Mr Scholtz in the incident, claimed R11 million and R25 000, respectively against Mr Scholtz, and three others, including Mr Scholtz’s father Gerard.

In June 2013, the High Court ordered Mr Scholtz to pay Mr Merryweather R10m in damages. Both that damages award and the liability finding were made by default after Mr Scholtz failed to defend the action.

But Mr Scholtz later came forward with a rescission application, claiming his failure to defend the action was motivated by advice he had received that he need not be concerned because the service of the summons had been irregular.

The R10 million damages award was subsequently set aside by a full bench in December 2015.

With the help of his attorneys, Mr Merryweather was left with no choice but to relaunch the civil claim. His trial began in November 2019 and was subsequently postponed due to Covid-19 lockdowns. The case resumed in open court in March this year.

Judge Yasmin Meer said the onus was on the defence to prove self-defence against being liable for the damages of the assault.

Summarising the evidence in her ruling, on Tuesday June 22, Judge Meer said Mr Merryweather had established that Mr Scholtz had wrongfully spear tackled him, causing bodily injury.

“On a determination of the merits of Andrew’s damages claim, I accordingly find that the injuries sustained by Andrew were caused by his being spear tackled by Scholtz, and that the defendant is liable for such injuries,” she says.

Mr Merryweather learnt of the ruling from his lawyer. “I received a phone call from my advocate, John Whitehead, to tell me judgment was handed down and we were successful. It was very emotional and still feels surreal because this has been such a long journey,” he said.

Mr Merryweather, who is now a financial advisor, said he was very grateful to Advocate Whitehead, who he said had believed in the case from the beginning and who had put in hundreds of hours over more than a decade.

Over the years, Mr Merryweather has received financial support from his parents who covered his medical bills.

“My initial months of rehabilitation in hospital straight after the assault was funded through fund-raising efforts where the community of Cape Town just poured out support for me, for which I was very thankful,” he said.

Mr Merryweather said he had had to make life-altering changes after the assault.

“I have had to adjust, adapt and change everything from just getting out of bed, into bed, and in and out of my home, to ramps at my mom’s house when I visit her,” he said.

He also had to redo his driver’s licence so he could drive a car with hand controls.

He had grown accustomed to regular visits to the hospital, and daily pain had become a part of his life, he said.

Mr Merryweather said did not have much of a social life, and any trip he went on had to be planned in advance to ensure there was wheelchair access.

He said that while he was relieved that his legal battle was over, Mr Scholtz would be able to wake up tomorrow morning and continue to live his life normally.

“Tomorrow when I wake up, I will still be paralysed and facing a lifetime of physical nerve pain, hospital visits and confined to my wheelchair prison, which is a constant reminder of everything I have lost and all the activities I can no longer do.”

The Tatler made numerous attempts to get comment from Mr Scholtz’s attorney, but none was forthcoming by the time of publication.