Supreme court rules against a parent in RAF matter after partner died in an accident

The Supreme Court of Appeal held that the high court was correct not to agree to a settlement agreement which could have meant the Road Accident Fund was left out of pocket.
The Supreme Court of Appeal held that the high court was correct not to agree to a settlement agreement which could have meant the Road Accident Fund was left out of pocket.
Image: ER24

The mother of a minor child whose father was killed in a road accident has failed in her bid to ensure that the settlement agreement she reached with the Road Accident Fund (RAF) is made an order of the court.

If the settlement was made an order of the court without adjudication of the dispute, the fund could have paid for a claim where there was a dispute about whether it was liable at all.

On Thursday, the majority of the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) - in a 3-2 split - dismissed an appeal by Patronacia Maswanganyi to set aside the decision of the full bench of the high court in Polokwane in May 2017.

Maswanganyi, on behalf of her minor child, had issued a summons against the RAF following the death of her child's father in a car accident in July 2014. 

Maswanganyi claimed the sole cause of the collision was the negligence of the insured driver who had crashed into the deceased's vehicle. She claimed R1m from the fund.

On the day of the hearing, the RAF and Maswanganyi reached an agreement and the parties sought to make the agreement that they reached - that she be paid R561,000 - an order of the court.

This would have meant an end of the matter.

However, the judge assigned to hear the case, deputy judge president Fikile Mokgohloa, refused the request because she read in the pleadings in the case that there was no indication that the insured driver who collided with the deceased was negligent at all.

If the accident was not caused by the fault of the other driver, the fund should not be liable for compensation to the deceased or his family.

On the day of the hearing, the lawyer for the fund told the judge she was not satisfied by the agreement but indicated she was assigned to the case only the day before and did not have access to all the witnesses.

The judge called on witnesses to testify as to how the collision had occurred. 

Before the trial could be finalised, Maswanganyi brought an application to declare the trial a nullity and for the draft settlement agreement to be made an order of the court.

Mokgohloa refused and the full bench of the high court dismissed Maswanganyi's appeal.

Maswanganyi's grounds of appeal were that the settlement agreement put an end to the dispute between the parties and thus deprived the high court of any further jurisdiction.

In its decision on Thursday, the majority of the SCA, in a judgment written by acting judge of appeal Sharise Weiner, said the jurisdiction of the court to resolve the pleaded issues did not terminate when the parties arrived at a settlement of those issues.

"If it did, the court would have no power to grant an order in terms of the settlement agreement."

Weiner said in cases involving the disbursement of public funds, judicial scrutiny might be essential.

In a minority judgment, judge of appeal Dumisani Zondi disagreed with the majority judgment.

Zondi said agreement between Maswanganyi and RAF was neither improper nor incompetent.


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