Landmark ruling for paralysed player

The Constitutional Court has ordered that Charles Oppelt, who was injured in a club match, must be paid compensation by the Western Cape department of health.

The landmark judgement brings to an end almost 14 years of legal wrangling.

The former Mamre hooker was just 17 in 2002 when a scrum collapsed, causing a severe injury to his cervical spine, which left him a quadriplegic – paralysed from the neck down.

Oppelt waited for treatment for about 15 hours and was treated at three hospitals in Cape Town. The Constitutional Court finally ruled that he was treated too late to reverse ischaemia, described as a 'secondary injury' by Dr Dennis Newton, an orthopaedic surgeon who was in charge of the Conradie hospital’s spinal cord injuries unit from 1988 to 2002.

The Constitutional Court found that 'the available evidence suggests that the applicant could probably have been treated at Conradie within four hours of sustaining the injury and [if he had] the sad and tragic consequences of that injury could probably have been avoided.'

In a majority judgement, Constitutional Court judge Justice Molemela said: 'I am also satisfied that the negligence of the respondent’s employees led to the applicant’s permanent paralysis.'

Molemela ordered that the Western Cape department of health 'is declared liable to pay damages as the applicant may prove to have suffered as a result of the neck injury sustained in the rugby match on 23 March 2002'. He also ordered that Oppelt’s costs be covered.

Photo: Shelley Christians/TimesLive

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Craig Lewis