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Wrongful suffering must be compensated, Prof Johann Neethling argues
2016-04-20

Description: Prof Johan Neethling, wrongful suffering must be compensated Tags: Prof Johan Neethling, wrongful suffering must be compensated

From the left are Prof Jonathan Jansen, Vice-Chancellor and Rector, Prof Caroline Nicholson, Dean of the Faculty of Law, Prof Neethling, Prof Rita-Marie Jansen, Vice-Dean, and Dr Brand Claassen, Head of the Department of Private Law.
Photos: Stephen Collett

On 11 April, the Faculty of Law held the first of the year’s series of Prestige Lectures presented by Prof Johann Neethling, Senior Professor in the Department of Private Law.  The event was attended by senior faculty members, the Dean of Law Prof, Caroline Nicholson, and the Vice-Chancellor and Rector, Prof Jonathan Jansen.

In his opening remarks, Prof Jansen said “Prestige lectures are at the heart of a university’s academic endeavour. It would serve the university community well to present them more often, as they go to the heart of important issues that affect society”

Prof Neethling made a compelling case for compensation for wrongful suffering by a child born with impairments. Since the mid-1960s, the actions of wrongful conception and wrongful birth have been recognised in South African law. Wrongful conception is defined as when a healthy child is born as a result of failed sterilisation or abortion, and wrongful birth is when a doctor fails to inform parents of a disability before the birth of their child.

“The reality is that a child born with impairments may indeed suffer (sometimes extreme) pain, loss of amenities of life, which would justify an award of damages,” he said.

So far, the action for wrongful suffering has been dismissed by the High Court and the Supreme Court of Appeal. However, he highlighted several cases where wrongful conception and wrongful birth was recognised by the courts.

“Why can the same approach (for wrongful conception and wrongful birth) not be followed in wrongful suffering claims by accepting that a disabled child seeks to address the consequences of its birth?” he asked.

Prof Neethling is regarded as one of the greatest minds in Private Law, not only in South Africa but in the African continent.

A festschrift, Essays in Honour of Johann Neethling (2015), with contributions from more than 50 of his peers around the world, was also launched at the lecture.

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