In most cases, the shock of a motor vehicle accident has not even worn off when cold hard reality comes knocking at your door. The trauma and both physical and emotional injuries needs to be set aside so you can tend to the financial and sometimes legal consequences of an accident. This is where the Road Accident Fund (RAF) could be of financial assistance to you, even if you have insurance.
The RAF is government body and is funded by a tax levy on fuel, so in effect all motorists on South African roads fund it. It aids the victims of hit and runs as well as victims where motor vehicle accidents were caused due to negligence, therefore, anyone can institute a claim against the RAF, except if you were the only driver and the sole cause of the accident. It is important to lodge your claim before it prescribes which is generally three years, except in the cases of minors (the prescription time only starts running once the minor has turned 18) a and a hit and run, when it will prescribe after two years of the accident taking place.
The RAF follows a “fault-based” system, in other words if you were in an accident where a court finds that you were, for example, 20% contributory negligent you will still have a claim, only 20% will be deducted from the amount you could ultimately be awarded. This is because the “fault-based” system works on a scale of proportionality, thus you would only receive R80 000 where a R100 000 claim was awarded to you.
You can institute this claim yourself or you can get legal assistance in the matter. The question usually asked is: “Will an attorney’s assistance speed up my claim?” This consideration is, however, not necessarily the one you should base your decision on. Let’s consider a scenario in order to explain this situation: You are in an accident and you sustain minor injuries but will not be able to continue in your profession due to the nature of the injury. You go ahead and institute a claim for your medical expenses, general damages and future loss of income that amounts to hundreds and thousands of Rands. Since you had no contribution in the cause of the accident you are more than confident that your claim will be settled. You also plan to institute a claim against the driver of the vehicle.
What you might not be aware of, however, is that the Road Accident Fund Act has been significantly altered in 2008. One of the most fundamental changes has been that the common law right to sue the wrongdoer in motor vehicle accidents has been abolished. Even passengers in an unroadworthy taxi or bus have no claim against the owner or operator of the vehicle. You can claim against the RAF only, and it is therefore important to know what cover you have from the RAF.
Claims for future loss of income has been limited by the Act to a maximum of R160 000 a year, subject to annual raises in line with inflation, bringing the 2015 maximum amount to a total of R227 810 (published in the Government Gazette on 30 January 2015). Also general damages, which are claims for disability and pain and suffering, have been limited to serious injuries only by the 2008 amendments.
Furthermore the Act is set to undergo further fundamental changes in the near future by means of the Road Accident Benefit Scheme Bill which is to be based on a “no-fault benefit system.”
So while some people could argue that they save the legal expenses when instituting a claim against the RAF they risk losing much more money due to their own lack in knowledge of the Act. Most firms also work on a contingency basis, meaning they only take a percentage of the claim awarded to the victim, should the claim be successfully awarded. Thus you are not liable for the full legal fee. Not only will your attorney assist you in all the technical legal aspects and help you to maximize your claim, your attorney also has access to private medical experts that can examine you and support your claim.
The question should therefore not be “How fast will my claim will be settled with an attorney’s assistance” since all claims follow a fixed procedure, but rather “Do I have enough knowledge of the Act and procedure, without the assistance of an attorney, to ensure a maximum successful claim?”
This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice.