Bitter legacy for mom and boy after escalator accident
A Durban-born woman now living in the UK is battling to get justice for her son whose foot was mangled when it was trapped in an escalator at an Umhlanga shopping centre six years ago.
Nishala Hird believes the owner of the Gateway Theatre of Shopping and the company that installed and maintained the escalator — Schindler Lifts — should be held liable.
But her attempts to sue them have run into problems, including being told she was suing the wrong property company — after handing over a security deposit for legal costs.
Originally from Durban, Hird was on a family holiday to the city in July 2015. They went out to eat at the shopping centre and her son, Euan, then six, went to the children’s entertainment area on a higher level.
She said he was coming back down the escalator with his father and another relative when the adults felt the escalator jolt and heard a loud thud. Euan screamed and they saw that his foot was trapped.
“Euan’s foot was so severely damaged and crushed that the surgeon prepped theatre for an amputation … but the circulation improved and he operated,” Hird said.
He had multiple compound fractures, severe nerve damage and soft tissue damage and circulation to his foot was cut off.
Hird said that since their return to the UK, Euan had been mostly in a cast or boot because the bones were not healing.
The boy finds standing or walking difficult and cannot play full-contact sport or participate in physical activities at school.
Hird initiated legal proceedings against Schindler and Old Mutual Property — the company she believed owned the shopping centre — but because she is not resident in SA she had to lodge security deposits.
Hird said she put down a R350,000 deposit for the Schindler action and R75,000 for the Old Mutual case.
In its plea, Old Mutual subsequently stated that it did not own the shopping centre; it merely managed it on behalf of a subsidiary and Hird was “suing the wrong entity”.
This meant they had to withdraw against Old Mutual, which would likely demand that its costs be paid from the security deposit, and sue Propco, which would, in turn, also demand security.
Her attorney, Cape Town-based Eric Louw, said he believed that Old Mutual should have disclosed the true situation about ownership earlier.
“The fact is Old Mutual and its lawyers knew from the start that my client was misinformed on this, but nevertheless remained silent and allowed costs to run up unnecessarily.”
Old Mutual, however, said it had done nothing wrong. A statement released through its attorney, Richard Hoal, said the company was “deeply sorry about the trauma” to the family.
“While the legal case is still under consideration and hence sub judice, Old Mutual Property can confirm that it investigated the incident and is satisfied that it cannot be held liable.”
Schindler’s attorney, Craig Woolley, said the company was opposing the application and denied any liability.
In its pleadings, it alleges Euan was riding up and down on the escalator unsupervised. It says the boy was wearing shoes that were too large or did not fit properly and he was dragging his foot along the sidewall of the escalator.