Attorneys oppose new RAF system
20 December 2007
The Johannesburg Attorneys Association has renewed its call for the Road Accident Fund to honour Court orders and settlement agreements it reaches and pay settlements in time. The call comes in the wake of yet another incident where property of the RAF was attached in lieu of unsettled claims by victims of road accidents, and further attempts by the Fund to cut the legal profession out of the equation by instituting direct claim and settlement protocols between victims and the RAF.
"It is absurd," says legal specialist, attorney Michael de Broglio. "As it is the RAF are barely managing to run their own finances and pay claims to victims of accidents. Now the fund aims to burden itself with yet more administration costs while already in the red in a blatant attempt to by-pass attorneys." Consequentially, says de Broglio, road accident victims will face an impenetrable barrier of red tape in any effort to claim against the RAF.
"Without legal representation for victims," he says, "the RAF has free reign to under-settle claims, drag out payments or, as we already see, not settle at all until dragged to Court where they then settle us at the last minute. I question why the RAF cannot honour Court orders and make payments on time and as agreed by them. Their Finance Department is clumsy, administratively inept and mismanaged to such an extent that it continues to walk the tight rope of the patience of the public and the Courts daily." De Broglio says he doubts whether direct payments by the RAF, as claimed by the Fund, would speed payments up as its CEO Jacob Modise reportedly stated this week. "The RAF has proven, time and again, that it is incapable of managing itself.
Now it wants to handle claims against itself and toss out attorneys. How could anyone possibly expect that the situation would improve when even attorneys have to get Court orders and use the Sheriff to get payments honoured by the Fund?"
De Broglio says that at the moment the RAF deals with approximately 500 attorney firms representing, on average, some 120 000 victims of road accidents annually. Should the RAF pursue its proposed new policy, he says that it is highly likely that the vast majority of claimants would never finish jumping the hurdles the RAF seems to set in the path of anyone requiring compensation.
Several lawyers have contacted the JAA saying that the roll out of the new system, had in fact, led to a slowing down of payments and staff at the RAF were privately commenting on and blaming the new R 30 million system. The JAA hoped the situation would be sorted out urgently considering victims need compensation, and not a deluge of allegations blaming the past, lauding expensive new systems and software programs, which have yet to work effectively. Even today, if an RAF payment was received by an attorney, it remains impossible to know which client or claim such a payment is relevant to, as it seems the phone at the Fund is not being answered most of the time, and RAF staff members who have been contacted privately, say they have no way of knowing, with the new system, who the payments are actually for and have advised only one Department, which cannot be reached, can provide the answers.
Still, in the future, the taxpayer will be subsidizing an even larger administration. In addition, it seems that the RAF has also failed to consider simple factors such as FICA compliance during the claim process. De Broglio says that attorneys often assist clients in opening bank accounts.
"Presently attorneys act on behalf of victims, mostly on upfront risk with a percentage of the settled claim covering legal costs which includes lots of costs in the form of medical experts. Few attorneys will, in future, be prepared to assume any risk should the RAF elect to continue with its direct payments. This, coupled with the proposed changes to the RAF's governing legislation will leave South African road accident victims in a defenceless position should they dare to claim compensation from the fund. One wonders if this really the purpose?"