All of us, whether we like it or not, pay for our right to claim from the Road Accident Fund (RAF) with every litre of petrol or diesel that we buy. The levy - R1.93 per litre in 2019 - buys a form of personal insurance any of us might need at any time. Yet few of us have any idea how it works or what benefits it offers.
The levy might feel like just another unwelcome tax, but it funds a social security safety net that is available to all drivers - including non-residents - on South Africa’s roads. The RAF’s mission is to “rehabilitate persons injured, compensate for injuries or death, and indemnify wrongdoers in a timely, caring and sustainable manner”.
It’s a noble cause, but like its predecessor, the Multilateral Motor Vehicle Accident Fund, which it replaced 29 years ago, the RAF is staggering under a burden of inadequate funding, spiralling claims, legal complications arising from the adversarial nature of the system, lengthy settlement delays and lack of control over the use of compensation for unintended purposes, such as paying legal fees.
So a new scheme (the sixth since 1942) is going through the legislative process: the Road Accident Benefit Scheme. It is being promoted on the promise that it will make claiming simpler, but in reality, it is unlikely to win any more friends than the RAF has done.
Two issues are causing the most concern: the cost to drivers, which has not been disclosed, but is likely to increase by as much as 75% (taking the levy to around R3.50 per litre), and the no-fault approach, which means that all drivers - no matter how negligent, reckless or drunk - will not only be indemnified under the scheme, but will receive benefits like everyone else.
Meanwhile, with all its problems, the RAF pays out about R30billion a year, the average award being in the region of R120 000. Although in theory you can claim without the help of an attorney, most people are ill-equipped - particularly in the aftermath of an accident - to make the best case to the fund, and they need legal assistance.
Martin Goss* managed his son Adam’s* claim (see “Financial Rescue”, opposite). Having been judged 100% blameless in the accident and significantly impaired, Adam received a settlement of about R5million (net of medical and legal costs) for future loss of earnings.
Goss lists the major challenges of the claim process as:
Coming to terms with the legal position
The RAF legislation removed the common-law right of an injured person to sue the wrongdoer, which means that the injured person depends on compensation from the RAF, while an uninjured wrongdoer has no liability.
“That would be okay if the RAF provided full and fair indemnity, but it doesn’t,” says Goss. “The cap on future loss of earnings, for example, is totally inadequate in many cases.”
The road safety information portal Arrive Alive (www.arrivealive.co.za) recommends drivers have personal accident cover to supplement RAF benefits. Payments from personal accident insurance are made in addition to any benefits that may be obtained from the RAF.
The risk of falling victim to greedy lawyers
Goss was approached by an attorney within days of Adam’s accident and signed an agreement with the firm before he realised there was a clear conflict of interest.
“Without some degree of legal knowledge, or at least some business acumen, it must be all too easy to go with the first lawyer who calls. I suspect this happens a lot,” he says.
Each side builds a case on the degree of injury/impairment and the degree of fault on the part of the claimant. “The process is very slow. Goodness knows the impact on families who do not have the means to wait five years. They would probably be forced to accept any offer just to survive,” says Goss. “I battled, and I have the benefit of education, professional experience and contacts,” he says.
Who can claim?
* Anyone who suffers an injury.
* The dependants of a person killed in an accident.
* The executor of a deceased estate.
* A court-appointed curator.
* A parent or legal guardian of a minor child.
* A foster parent, who has incurred medical expenses on behalf of a child.
What can you claim for?
* Past and future hospital and medical expenses.
* Past and future loss of income.
* Past and future loss of support, if you are a dependant of an accident victim.
* General damages for pain, suffering and disfigurement when injuries are serious.
* Necessary funeral expenses.
For more information on claiming, visit www.raf.co.za/claims