A shareholder’s personal claim against directors for causing pure economic losses through diminution in share value: A South African critical analysis
Cockrill, Chanté Ashley
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If a company is harmed by the behaviour of a director as a result of financial misstatements, shareholders may suffer the economic consequences in the form of a diminution in the value of their shares. Failure on directorship level in these circumstances has on more than one occasion resulted in aggrieved shareholders seeking to recover damages suffered and losses incurred in terms of section 218(2) of the Companies Act 2008. This was the situation in the recent cases, Hlumisa Investment Holdings (RF) Limited v Kirkinis and in Itzikowitz v Absa Bank Limited. While I am unaware of any reported case arising from the much-publicised Steinhoff scandal, there appear to be moves in the direction of court action to recover pure economic loss. Steinhoff shareholders are seeking to hold the retail group‘s directors to account. Scandals like Steinhoff and African bank are disturbing because it points to a lack of clarity and certainty in South African company laws in respect of director‘s personal liability in these circumstances. It is for this reason that this study investigates whether shareholders can institute personal liability claims against directors for causing shareholders a diminution of the value of the shares in the company as a result of poor decision making on directorship level, since such a loss is merely reflective of the company‘s loss. Although, after Itzikowitz v Absa Bank Limited, the position seems to be settled in our law, we still have incidences where shareholders are seeking to hold directors personally liable for the diminution in share price under section 218(2) of the Companies Act 2008. It is for this reason that the study explores the scope of section 218(2) and investigates many related questions surrounding section 218(2), in light of directors‘ personal liability and shareholder protection.