A wealthy South African businessman who once stood trial in Mauritius for the murder of his girlfriend, but who was acquitted of all charges, has won a case against his insurers, who have been ordered to pay him more than R25m for incapacity.
Johannesburg high court judge Stuart Wilson said the man had proved his case that he was “totally and permanently unable” to work as a stockbroker anymore.
While the death of his South African girlfriend, who was found dead in the pool of his luxury villa in Mauritius, and the subsequent trial were reported on widely, the judgment handed down this week in his favour only refers to him as PR.
However, it gives details of the drowning, his subsequent arrest and detention, and the trial, which PR’s doctors said were deeply traumatic events which had led to him having a breakdown and being diagnosed with various mental disorders.
Wilson said while there was no serious dispute that over eight years after the “triggering event”, PR was not able to work as a stockbroker, and there was no sign that he would be able to do so in the foreseeable future, Discovery had repudiated his claim.
It did so on the basis the insurance cover had expired on November 30 2015 and there was no evidence that on that date he was permanently incapable of working.
And even if there was such evidence, it was submitted that it could not be concluded that Discovery had acted unreasonably in rejecting his claim.
Wilson said it was common cause that PR was a very successful stockbroker – evidenced by the policy he took with Discovery, which had premiums of R20,000 a month for a potential incapacity payout of R25m.
He said PR’s job was demanding, required a resilient personality and fine judgment. It was high-pressure and high-stakes.
He had made enough money to purchase the villa in Mauritius. In December 2014, he was on holiday there with his girlfriend when she drowned in the swimming pool. He found her and tried to resuscitate her.
Wilson said PR then fell under suspicion of murdering her and was arrested. He was charged and detained pending trial.
Soon afterwards he suffered some sort of a breakdown and was seen by local psychiatrists, who noted evidence of depressive illness. By March 2015, he had lost 20kg and looked “mentally and physically exhausted”.
Nine months later, his legal team appointed Dr Larissa Panieri-Peter to assess him to see if he was fit to stand trial.
By then he had lost 30kg. He was agitated, tearful and at times incoherent. He described being held in a dark airless room, in filthy conditions. He broke down when speaking of his girlfriend’s death but also spoke of the death of his former self.
Panieri-Peter was not called to give evidence, because his lawyers decided not to pursue the point that he was unfit to stand trial.
After his acquittal on the charges in March 2016, he returned to SA and was hospitalised in Pietermaritzburg, diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and major depression.
Later that year, he contacted Panieri-Peter, informing her that he had been told she had visited him in prison but he could not remember these visits. She then became his treating psychiatrist and, in his case against Discovery, supported his diagnosis, although at one stage she said he also had unspecified bipolar disorder.
In her evidence, she said he was angry, self-destructive and travelled constantly to avoid confronting the trauma.
She said his condition had a significant and lasting impact on his daily life. He cannot drive, cannot make bookings online, is estranged from his family and struggles to sustain lengthy conversation.
Panieri-Peter said he had “lost who he was” and there was no likelihood of any improvement.
Wilson said it had been established that PR suffered from various conditions which rendered him totally and permanently unable to resume his occupation as a stockbroker.
He also found on a balance of probabilities that he was incapacitated as at November 30 2015 (when the policy lapsed) and that Discovery’s liability under the policy was triggered at the point that PR’s inability to work became permanent.
“It follows that Discovery became liable under the policy and it had a duty to pay out.”
Wilson said the fact that Discovery had closed the door on him before him going to therapy and receiving treatment, which could take months or years to assess whether he was permanently incapacitated, was plainly unreasonable.
He ordered Discovery to pay PR the sum of R25,086,456 plus interest and PR’s legal costs.