RAF replacement 'a car crash for child victims'

17 October 2018 - 08:24
By Dan Meyer
FILE PICTURE: Six people died in an accident near Grahamstown .
Image: Supplied FILE PICTURE: Six people died in an accident near Grahamstown .

An 18-year-old Kimberley woman has R4m to her name after settling a claim with the Road Accident Fund. But activists fighting plans to replace the bankrupt fund say child accident victims like her will be left in penury under the new scheme.

Victim-support activists say the bill outlining the new Road Accident Benefit Scheme “lacks humanity” because it prevents children launching claims until they are 18 and “neglects to properly assess reduced earning potential”.

The bill hopes to create a more efficient and cost-effective way of recompensing road accident victims‚ but opponent Kirstie Haslam said its proposals on child claimants were “nothing short of a human rights violation”.

Haslam‚ from the Association for the Protection of Road Accident Victims‚ said: “A child’s pre-accident earning potential and career prospects are to be totally ignored.”

Simphiwe Jikelo* was 14 when she suffered serious head injuries in a crash that killed her elder sister. She has neuro-cognitive damage‚ and her mother said: “I just realised that she wasn’t quite right‚ her character had changed and she was different.”

Doctors told her parents she would struggle to study for a degree and would need further medical care‚ prompting them to lodge a claim with the RAF which was handled by Cape Town attorneys.

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It resulted in a R4m payout three years later – much of it awarded for Simphiwe’s reduced earning potential – and factors considered in arriving at the figure included the teenager’s academic record and the fact that both her parents had degrees.

According to her attorney‚ “even though it’s clear and agreed that the minor has a significantly reduced earning capacity after the accident‚ under the new bill she will not be able to claim any compensation for loss of earnings”.

DA transport spokesman Manny de Freitas said under the Road Accident Benefit Scheme proposals‚ each claim will be allocated to an administrator‚ making the process “highly labour intensive” and causing “bloated bureaucracy in an already onerous process”.

He added: “The [RAF] is bad as it is. The new bill will compound the issue and make it much worse. The goal should be to get victims as close as possible to their lives before the crash. This bill ensures that you receive the minimum settlement available.”

RAF chief marketing officer Phumelela Dhlomo said the plan to allow “direct claims only” under the new scheme would make it more inclusive. And by eliminating lawyers and litigation‚ claims would be processed more quickly.

In September‚ the RAF accused personal injury lawyers of presenting fraudulent claims to inflate their share of the eventual settlement. De Freitas said some of the criticism of lawyers was fair‚ “but it’s a minuscule percentage of bad guys‚ and now everyone will suffer. With good systems in place‚ you would weed out those people.”

Simphiwe’s mother said despite feeling “in the dark” about the claim process‚ she was satisfied that the share of her daughter’s claim awarded to the attorneys was “fair enough based on the amount of work and planning they put in”.

Noting that the bill was “about 100%” likely to be passed‚ Haslam said: “It can and should be challenged in the Constitutional Court.”

An RAF spokesperson said the bill was under consideration by parliament’s portfolio committee on transport before going to the National Council of Provinces.

* not her real name