Dark day for road crash victims

2008-07-25 00:00

Radical amendments to the Road Accident Fund (RAF) Act, which were passed as far back as three years ago, will become effective next Friday — “and it will be a dark day for every road user in the country”.

The announcement that the new measures will now become effective caused the bitterness about the measures between the RAF and the organised law profession to erupt yesterday.

Every law society in the country, and the lawyers’ umbrella body the Law Society of South Africa (LSSA), in collaboration with the SA Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (Saapil), will apply to the high court in Pretoria for an urgent interdict against the RAF, “on extremely urgent grounds”, to try and halt the implementation of the new “draconian” measures.

Ronald Bobroff, deputy president of Saapil and board member of the Law Society of the Northern Provinces, said yesterday that the urgent interdict application will be submitted “as soon as possible, perhaps even this weekend”.

“If those measures become effective, every South African will have to pray that after Friday he or she does not become injured as a result of the negligence of another road user. It will be a dark day for road users.”

He says his reason for saying so is that, among other things, the new measures stipulate that the RAF will no longer cover the medical expenses of people injured in road accidents if they are treated in private clinics and by private doctors.

Every injured person will, therefore, have to make use of a government doctor and a government hospital “where one lies waiting to die” — or cough up for private treatment from his or her own pocket.

In addition, a limit will be placed on the amount people who are permanently disabled following a road accident may claim. Whether the person earned “R10 000 or R100 000” a month before the accident, the RAF will not pay out any more than R9 000 a month.

Another “disturbing” measure is that the RAF will recognise claims for pain and suffering as a result of “serious injuries” only. “Even if you’ve broken both arms and legs, that would not be recognised. You will literally need to be close to death to have such a claim accepted,” said Bobroff.

The RAF has also said that people who submit claims against the RAF will henceforth receive their payments directly from the RAF and not, as is the case at present, via their lawyers.

Yesterday, lawyers said that in effect this will mean that “especially poor and needy people” will now no longer have the assistance of lawyers with claims against the RAF, as lawyers have, to date, agreed with such clients to recover their legal fees only once the RAF has paid out their claims.

If the RAF pays claimants directly, lawyers will have no guarantee that they will receive their money, and will consequently refuse to assist the poor.

Bobroff said such people will now be “left at the mercy of the RAF, without any legal assistance”.

Ayanda Vilikazi, CEO of marketing and communication at the RAF, said in response that any claimant is free to submit his claim directly to the RAF.

Secondly, he said, the new arrangement regarding the payment of claims will protect the claimants, because “too many lawyers do not pay the claimants all that they are entitled to”.

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