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The once and for all rule: a practical lesson


The once and for all rule provides that in claims for compensation or satisfaction arising out of a delict, breach of contract or other cause, the plaintiff must claim damages once for all damage allegedly sustained or expected insofar as it is based on a single cause of action.

The law requires a party with a single cause of action to claim in one and the same action whatever remedies the law accords them upon that cause. That prevents inextricable difficulties arising from discordant or conflicting decisions due to the same suit being aired more than once in different proceedings.

As a matter of public policy a defendant should not be twice harassed in respect of the same cause.

In this recent judgment the plaintiff instituted action for alleged unlawful arrest and detention seeking damages for deprivation of freedom, contumelia and discomfort.  More than a year later and while that action was still pending the plaintiff instituted a new action for damages for malicious prosecution.

The second action arose from the same set of acts or events which gave rise to the claim for unlawful arrest and detention.

The court said that while it accepted there is a difference between a claim for malicious prosecution and a claim for unlawful arrest and detention “that difference pales into insignificance having regard to the fact that the event that gave rise to the … claims is the same.”

The court said that, in accordance with the once and for all rule, the plaintiff should have instituted their claim for all their damages in one action so that the lawfulness or otherwise of the Minister of Police’s employees’ actions, who were involved in taking the challenged decisions, could be adjudicated in one action.

The plaintiff had all the facts in which to formulate both claims when instituting the first action and there was nothing preventing the plaintiff from instituting the claims in one action.

Unsurprisingly the court upheld the defendant’s objection that the claim for malicious prosecution was a duplication of the first claim of unlawful arrest and detention.

The Constitutional Court has confirmed that the rule does not prevent the development of the common law so as to allow for periodic payments of damages awarded. That does not mean however that a plaintiff can claim piecemeal for damages arising from the same event.

Olesitse NO v Minister of Police (470/2021) [2022] ZASCA 90 (15 June 2022)



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