THE Road Accident Fund (RAF) – funded from levies petrol consumers pay – could end up forking out billions of rand in victim compensation to passengers injured in road crashes.
The RAF would have to do so if Parliament does not meet a Constitutional Court-ordered deadline to amend crucial legislation affecting passengers injured in crashes.
And, while parliamentarians work towards meeting the August 2012 deadline, thousands of injured claimants have been waiting for relief – some for up to six years.
To make matters worse, attorneys in the field say their relief won’t come soon because, even if they are given the go-ahead to proceed with their cases, the waiting period for a trial date at the Western Cape High Court is three years and there are too few judges.
arose after three people injured in car accidents between May 2005 and June 2007 – Anele Mvumvu, Louise Pedro and Bianca Smith – lodged an application against the RAF in the Western Cape High Court.
Their lawyers argued that a section of the RAF Act that capped claims lodged by certain victims at R25 000 was unconstitutional and invalid.
It was their case that the section differentiated between people who were pedestrians, or passengers of an “innocent” vehicle, who had unlimited claim on compensation, compared with those injured in “offending” vehicles.
In terms of the section, claims by those injured in “offending” vehicles were capped at R25 000.
The high court declared the section inconsistent with the constitution and referred the decision to the Constitutional Court for confirmation.
Last February, that court confirmed the decision but gave Parliament until this August to amend the defects in the legislation.
If Parliament does not meet the deadline, the Constitutional Court’s judgment takes effect, resulting in all claims being uncapped.
Actuarial experts estimated that, if claims were uncapped, it would result in the fund having to fork out between R2 billion and R4bn in compensation.
On August 17 last year, the Draft Road Accident Fund Amendment Bill, 2011, was published.
According to Dr Maria du Toit, deputy director-general in the Department of Transport, the matter was being treated as a priority. She said the bill was in its final stages and was already with state law advisers.
“It is receiving the absolute priority of the executive,” she said. But attorneys are concerned about the effects the delay has had on litigants.
Jacqui Sohn, an attorney at Sohn and Wood Attorneys, said many of the firm’s cases related to the Road Accident Fund related were “in limbo”.
“People have died waiting to have their cases heard,” she said.
Sohn said that, even if the legislation was passed, it could again be disputed, further holding up cases.
There was a three-year wait for a date for civil trials, and cases in which parties applied for trial dates as far back as September 2009 were still waiting for dates to be allocated.
She said the decision to hold pre-trial conferences was a “pro-active initiative by the Bench” and that it had succeeded in opening up courtdates. However, there were still not enough judges, she added.