Couple fail in cost bid against law firm

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Bobroff

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Ronald Bobrof. File photo: Oupa Mokoena

Pretoria - A disgruntled couple who turned to the High Court in Pretoria after allegedly being overcharged by leading personal injury law firm Ronald Bobroff & Partners have been told their attempt to have a senior and junior partners’ names struck off the roll of attorneys is “premature”.

Jennifer and Matthew Graham approached the court in their private capacity in 2012, and on Tuesday Judge Billy Mothle delivered his judgment after the couple asked for a series of orders against the Law Society of the Northern Provinces.

One entails compelling the body to investigate the business dealings of Darren Bobroff and his father, Ronald, a former chairman of the law society and now president of the SA Association of Personal Injury Lawyers.

The couple want to prove that the lawyers overcharged them and short-changed them on the payout they received from the Road Accident Fund (RAF).

The Grahams first dealt with the Bobroffs when Matthew, a plumber, was seriously injured in a car accident in September 2006.

Jennifer said she was contacted by Darren Bobroff, who offered to lodge her RAF claim on a contingency basis, whereby she would receive 70 percent of any payout and the law firm 30 percent.

In the end, the couple received only R1.1 million of a payment of nearly R2m.

The law firm took the rest.

According to the Grahams, the law firm charged them for 500 hours of professional time spent on the case, at R1 500 an hour.

They claim investigations revealed that at most 132 hours had been spent on the matter.

They accused the Bobroffs of grievous misconduct in their handling of their claim and want the society to provide its findings to the court.

The society denied delaying an investigation into the Bobroffs and said the Grahams should leave it to do its job.

Judge Mothle agreed with the law society and dismissed an application for an order to have the court take over the law society’s investigation into the Bobroffs, saying the Grahams’ accusations against the society were “premature”.

“It seems to me the Grahams were rather impatient with the procedures followed by the law society,” the judgment reads.

The law society said it received more than 8 000 complaints a year and, on average, only 230 were dealt with in a year.

Judge Mothle said the society would deal with the matter as it did with all normal disciplinary procedures, but the Grahams’ lawyers had exerted “a lot of pressure” on the society, “to a point of elevating the complaint above others”.

The law society said it would “give effect” to the court’s directives.

Ronald Bobroff said his firm “welcomes the vindication”.

“By dismissing the application the court clearly found there to be no basis on which to suspend or strike me or Darren Bobroff from the roll of attorneys, or that there was any basis to interfere with the law society’s handling of the so-called Graham ‘complaint’,” he said.

Judge Mothle said: “The Grahams seem to have a misapprehension or suspicion that the law society would not act objectively against the Bobroffs.

“Considering the evidence placed before this court, I am unable to conclude that the society has failed to discharge its duties.”

The judge ordered the law society to convene a disciplinary inquiry within 60 days into the complaints against the Bobroffs.

He ordered the society’s disciplinary department to inspect the books and trust accounts of the Bobroffs and compile a report within 30 days.

Outstanding information on the part of the Bobroffs is to be delivered to the law society and the Grahams’ attorneys within 15 days.

Discovery Health funded the couple’s application.

Among the allegations against the Grahams is that they became disgruntled only after they received a letter from Discovery Health in 2010.

The medical aid scheme claimed more than R327 000 from the couple for medical expenses incurred while Matthew was in hospital.

Discovery also told the couple the RAF had paid the Bobroffs for the medical expenses, but that the law firm had not given this money to the Grahams.

It accused the Bobroffs of abusing their clients by short-changing them.

Ronald Bobroff said Discovery was trying to get back at him and his firm by using the Grahams as he had exposed a scheme whereby Discovery, “against the Medical Schemes Act”, forced members injured in accidents to claim from the RAF at their own expense, and then to pay Discovery the full medical costs incurred while in hospital.

The Bobroffs said the Grahams had been perfectly happy with their payout before Discovery meddled.

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