Claiming from the Road Accident Fund (RAF) without legal aid could leave a person shortchanged, with no legal recourse to challenge it, the Law Society of SA has warned.
The fund this week launched a campaign encouraging accident victims to #KeepItSimple by cutting out the middleman and making claims directly through their agents.
“Claiming directly with the RAF is as easy as 1, 2, 3,” its campaign tells citizens.
Since the introduction of direct claims, the fund says its proportion of direct claims increased from 15% of all claims to 37% in the last decade.
Mvuzo Notyesi of Law Society of SA said although it was good and well to encourage people to claim directly in a bid to avoid exploitation from unscrupulous lawyers, a person’s chances of receiving an unjust settlement were higher without representation.
Notyesi said South Africans were also protected through the Attorneys Act, through which they could sue litigators they suspected of exploiting them.
“The RAF is correct in going around and telling people to claim directly, but the experience is they always under-settle claims, which I have seen several examples of,” he said. “But if you claim through a lawyer, you are also protected by the Attorney Fidelity Fund [AFF], which is an insurance fund through which you can sue a lawyer if you have been exploited.
“With the RAF, there is no such insurance. If you claim and are given an unjust amount, you have no legal recourse to challenge that, you must just accept it.”
The AFF is a fidelity guarantee fund, which exists in terms of the Attorneys Act. It’s meant to protect the public against loss as a result of theft of trust funds.
Outa, the anti-tax abuse lobby group, said the process of claiming directly from the RAF could present several conflicts of interest, giving the fund more leeway to pay out as little as possible.
Rudy Heyneke, portfolio head of transport at Outa, said oversight bodies in the legal fraternity needed to play their role in closing the policy gaps which allow for possible exploitation on both sides.
“When you’re processing your own claim, [the RAF] appoints you a medical examiner and so forth and these guys are using people they know. So, whose interests do you think they will look out for?”