Judgment No. HB 23/2002
Case No. HC 2946/2001
WESTERN TRANSPORT (PVT) LTD Applicant
STELLA KATSAMBE 1st Respondent
DEPUTY SHERIFF 2nd Respondent
HIGH COURT OF ZIMBABWE
BULAWAYO 22 FEBRUARY AND 14 MARCH 2002
A H Denbury for the applicant
T Ndlovu for the respondent
KAMOCHA J: In this application the applicant company seeks
condonation of the late filing of the application for rescission of a default judgment
granted by this court on 29 November 2001.
In brief, what happened was this. On 5 October, 2001 Mrs Stella Katsambe
who is now the respondent issued summons claiming payment of the sum of three
million dollars ($3 000 000,00) being loss of support damages arising out of the death
of her husband negligently caused by defendant’s employee in the course and scope of
his employment with the defendant which amount plaintiff and her four minor
children born out of her marriage to her late husband, expected to benefit from his
income. The defendant was alleged to have refused or neglected to pay the said
amount despite demand.
She also claimed interest a tempore morae calculated from the date of demand
which was 23 July 2001 to the date of final payment.
Summons was served on the defendant, which is now the applicant, on 10
October, 2001. No appearance to defend was entered resulting in the plaintiff
enrolling the matter as an unopposed court application and was granted a judgment on
29 November, 2001. The following day she obtained a writ of execution. Three days
later i.e. 4 December a notice of execution and attachment was given to the defendant
by the Deputy Sheriff who then attached two of the defendant’s vehicles. At the very
least the defendant company should have applied for rescission by 4 January 2002.
But Western Transport (Pvt) Ltd which was the defendant in that matter filed
this application on 18 January 2002. The explanation for failure to apply for
rescission of judgment within a month and for not entering appearance to defend was
The explanation appears in the affidavit of Mr Tommy Ndlovu who is the
manager of the Claims Department at the applicant company. His duty inter alia is to
liaise on regular basis with the applicant’s insurance brokers in relation to third party
claims when such claims arise.
During the first week of August, 2001 he received a letter of demand dated 23
July 2001 from the 1st respondent’s lawyers. The letter of demand related to an
accident which had occurred in October 1999. Ndlovu held discussions with other
managerial members of staff regarding the letter of demand. A view was held that the
driver of the company had been cleared of any wrong doing. It was then suggested
that Ndlovu should check with the police to establish whether or not that was the
He then went to the Bulawayo Traffic Police where at first he was advised that
indeed the docket relating to the matter had been closed since the matter had been
treated as a sudden death. It was only after he had produced the letter of demand to
the police that he was told that the matter had been re-opened and the applicant’s
driver would face a charge of culpable homicide. He then requested for a police
report but was advised to return on a latter date to collect the report.
At that stage the brokers of the applicant were Sedgwick Insurance Brokers
(Private) Limited. Ndlovu obtained a standard form letter from Sedgwick addressed
to the police requesting for a police report. He presented the letter to the police on 31
August 2001. The police completed the form and stamped it.
That police report introduced considerable confusion into the matter. To a
small extent confusion was introduced by stating in the report that the applicant’s
insurance company was NICOZ. It turned out that NICOZ was not the insurer of the
vehicle at the relevant time. It was however, established that the applicant’s insurer at
the time of the accident in 1999 was Standard Fire and General Insurance Company
(“SFG). Ndlovu only managed to establish this in early October 2001.
More and considerable delay was caused by the number of the vehicle given
by the police in their report. They gave the registration number of the vehicle as
491-367N. Great confusion set into the matter. A claim form had been submitted
through the applicant’s new brokers - UDC Glenrand (“UDC”) for onward
transmission to the insurer i.e. SFG. The registration number of the vehicle given in
the police report was wrong. It was given as 491-367N instead of 496-307W. As
would be expected the claim by the applicant was rejected due to the wrong
registration number of the vehicle. Ndlovu had to investigate the matter afresh by
finally going back to the police where he eventually establish that the police officer
who had compiled the report entered wrong information on it.
While these investigations were taking place summons was issued on 5
October 2001 and served on the applicant on 10 October 2001. Ndlovu forwarded the
summons to the applicant’s insurers on the same day. A Mr Kim Ngwenya, who
works for UDC, confirmed in his supporting affidavit that it was the usual practice for
the insured to pass on such legal process to insurers as it was they who may eventually
be ultimately responsible for payment. It was the insurer who usually took steps to
protect their interests and those of the insured. They even engaged their own legal
practitioners when the need arose. However, in the particular case the insurer did not
take the necessary step to enter appearance to defend. The confusion regarding the
registration number of the vehicle still reigned. The second police report put letter
“N” at the end of the registration number of the vehicle instead of the letter “W”.
This was only clarified on or about 21 November 2001.
Before the insurer and its insured could have the matter sorted out the
respondent applied for and was granted a default judgment on 29 November 2001
which culminated in the notice of execution on 4 December 2001. Ndlovu forwarded
the documents to his insurers on 5 December 2001. The insurer did engage the
services of its legal practitioners who eventually declined to act on behalf of the
applicant. The result was that the applicant had to engage its own legal practitioners
to remedy the situation.
The legal practitioners were engaged on 21 December 2001 at lunch time
when the law firm was due to close for its Christmas recess until 2 January 2002. The
legal practitioner concerned had instructed his secretary to leave the file prominently
on his desk for his attention on his return to office on 3 January 2002. However, the
secretary inadvertently placed the file in a filing cabinet instead of on the legal
The legal practitioner did not return to work on 3 January 2002 because he was
sick. He only managed to be in the office the next day - 4 January 2002 a Friday. It
was only on the following Wednesday 9 January 2002 that it was discovered that the
file relating to the case had been filed through inadvertence. Thereafter the legal
practitioner began to prepare the papers pertaining to this application and also those
relating to the application for rescission. He then filed this application on 18 January
The respondent submitted that there was a flagrant breach of the Rules of
Court coupled with an unacceptable explanation for the period of delay. She went on
to conclude that at best the applicant’s attitude could be described as casual. The
respondent’s assertions are simply not true in the light of the above explanation. I
find that the above detailed explanation given on behalf of the applicant is quite
acceptable and is hereby accepted.
Turning to the prospects of success of the applicant’s application for rescission
of judgment, it seems to me that the prospects are good according to the papers filed
of record. For instance the explanation given for the applicant’s failure to enter
appearance to defend was that the practice was that the insurers on receipt of
summons would normally take steps of their own through their legal practitioners to
ensure that the proceedings were defended. In short the applicant genuinely believed
that its insurers were going to do that. To that extent, therefore, it cannot be said the
applicant had a flagrant disregard of the Rules of Court.
As far as the costs are concerned I hold the view that this is a proper case
where the applicant should bear the costs. The applicant is seeking an indulgence
which in my view the respondent was entitled to oppose. The applicant did not
engage in dialogue with the respondent after receiving (a) the letter of demand, and (b)
the summons. Hence when no appearance to defend was entered, the respondent went
ahead and obtained a default judgment. She cannot be said to have “snatched at a
judgment”. In the result the applicant shall pay the costs of this application dispite its
Having accepted the applicant’s explanation for failure to act timeously and
having found that there are good prospects of success I would accordingly grant
condonation and issue an order in terms of the draft as amended.
Calderwood, Bryce Hendrie & Partners, applicant’s legal practitioners
Cheda & Partners, 1st respondent’s legal practitioners