Road accident victims left in lurch despite R14bn kitty

Thuli Zungu Consumer Line
Venessa Mngomezulu's legal woes might be over by the end of March after enduring a two-year wait for her RAF compensation.
Venessa Mngomezulu's legal woes might be over by the end of March after enduring a two-year wait for her RAF compensation.

Year after year, Consumer Line receives numerous complaints against unscrupulous lawyers who keep road accident victims' compensation for years without disclosing this to the Road Accident Fund claimants.

On the other hand, the Road Accident Fund is accused of not paying road accident victims what is due to them within the requisite six months waiting period after the request for payment is made.

What muddies the water is that the state-owned entity announced that it has over R17bn in unpaid claims last week Thursday.

Despite their struggle, the RAF also announced it has doubled the amount that the South Africans can claim for loss of income a year after they were involved in a road accident.

On the other hand, the Protection of Personal Information Act (Popia) is making it difficult for victims who enlist the help of lawyers to access their settlement information from the RAF.

This is a sad reality and adds salt to the wounds of accident victims.

A case in point is that of Vanessa Mngomezulu of Ebony Park in Midrand.

The mother of two was compensated R2.7m in 2018 after she was injured in a road accident that left her with a broken hip and a paralysed leg, causing her employer to terminate her employment due to ill health.

Mngomezulu, 32, was travelling from work with her father on a rainy night when a truck skipped a red traffic light and collided with the car in which she was a passenger, she said.

She was hospitalised for six months and discharged after surgeons inserted a plate to replace her broken hip, she said .

Mngomezulu said her aunt later referred her to Mamokgale Chuene Attorneys for help shortly after she was discharged in 2014.

Because of her injuries, she could not walk and a lawyer representing Mamokgale Chuene Attorneys later visited her at home, she said.

The law firm successfully lodged a claim with the RAF and a settlement was reached for her to be paid R2.7m for general damages and loss of income.

The lawyer did not disclose this, prompting her to inquire about her compensation with the RAF as it was the fourth year after she had lodged her claim.

"I was shocked when I discovered in June 2018, which was six months after the attorney had kept my money without telling me," Mngomezulu sad.

Upon inquiring, her attorney only paid her R100,000 adding that her money was kept safe in a trust account, she said.

"Our agreement was that they would deduct their 25% contingency fee and pay the rest into my bank account and not into their trust account," she said.

After reporting the lawyer to the Law Society of the Northern Provinces, the law firm started paying the money in dribs and drabs, she said.

"My balance is R1.4m and I can't access the R700,000 they deposited in January as my bank needs proof of payment and I can't find them since they have moved offices without leaving a forwarding address," Mngomezulu said.

In another case, Nolwandle Mabele accuses the RAF of not honouring its undertaking to pay her compensation of R1.5m within the agreed six months after an award was made.

The RAF has a six-month waiting period before it pays accident victims, Mabele said

"It's now more than 200 days and both the RAF and my attorneys are sending me from pillar to post," said an angry Mabele.

Her lawyer promised to pay her money last week Thursday, but she was told the RAF has still not paid the money to the law firm.

Consumer Line has withheld the lawyer's name because he has not responded to allegations made against him at the time of going to print.

Dr Adriaan Taljaard, the acting chief marketing officer at the RAF, said Mabele elected to be represented by an attorney and it can't respond to issues around her claim because of Popia.

"We cannot discuss issues of her claim with her or with you," said Taljaard.

He said Mabele must discuss her matter with her lawyer to clear up any questions she may have regarding her claim.

Taljaard confirmed that the payment term was indeed 150 to 160 days and not more than that.

"These are calculated from the date on which the matter was requested for payment and not from the date the matter was settled in court," he said.

Miredy Cobus of Mamokgale Chuene Attorneys said the law firm needed to provide full accounting records as required by the Law Society.

"In essence it means we have to have a full and final account, and client bill of costs," she said.

Cobus said the bill of costs contains information and explains in detail all the services and expenses that the law firm has rendered on the client's behalf for which the company is entitled to levy its professional fees from.

"As a result, we are unable to fully account to the client without having the said bill, which the finality has been delayed by the court taxation process," she said.

"We should be able to fully account to the client on or before March 31 and we retain a portion to safeguard our own interest pending receipt of the final bill, which we expect soon," Cobus said.