Round 1 to accident lawyers

Anna Majavu

Anna Majavu

Road accident victims were dealt a blow by last week's Cape high court ruling that prevents the Road Accident Fund (RAF) from making direct payments to victims for the first time.

Until now the RAF has paid all compensation into the bank accounts of victims' lawyers.

The RAF says many victims were paid only small amounts by their lawyers, or they faced long delays in getting money out of their lawyers' accounts.

But on Friday Acting Cape Judge President Jeanette Traverso granted the South African Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, the Law Society of South Africa and a road accident victim, Luvuyo Mbele, a temporary interdict against the RAF.

The ruling says the RAF must continue paying compensation into the bank accounts of victims' attorneys until a review of its new system is complete.

RAF's chief executive Jacob Modise told Sowetan that the new system would still have guaranteed that lawyers receive their fees directly from the RAF.

But it would not have allowed lawyers to be paid the entire sum owed to the victim.

Neither would it have allowed lawyers to charge up to R15 000 a day.

Modise said the new system stipulated that lawyers would be paid according to a tariff that had been defined by the court as "reasonable".

RAF advocate Nazeer Cassim said three legal firms who received more than R113 million, R63 million and R43 million last year in victims' compensation should "state under oath" what portion was paid to claimants.

About 30 road accident victims protested against the Law Society of South Africa outside court, carrying posters that said "lawyers must stop chowing the victims' money".

Mbele's lawyer, Geoff Budlender, told the court Mbele's attorney had paid for his hospital bills and bought Mbele a wheelchair, which he would not otherwise have been able to afford.

But RAF spokesman Ayanda Vilakazi told Sowetan the RAF guarantees hospital bills in the case of accidents.