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An alarming percentage of people who are injured or die on South African roads are pedestrians, with Arrive Alive putting this figure at 35 percent to 40 percent of all road accident victims. This high percentage is attributed to a number of factors, including drunk driving and poor pedestrian infrastructure.

If you're injured in a road accident and the identities of the driver and vehicle owner are unknown, you can still seek compensation from the Road Accident Fund (RAF) by filing a “hit and run” claim.

In a “hit and run” road accident, which are more common than one thinks, the driver at fault leaves the scene of the accident without stopping or providing their details.

Claiming from the RAF

Pedestrians injured in road accidents can claim from the RAF for:

* Past and future medical expenses.

* Past and future loss of income due to injury.

* General damages for pain and suffering or disfigurement.

Since August 2008, general damages are paid out only in the event of serious injury. In the event of a pedestrian being killed in a road accident, the family may claim for loss of support and funeral costs.

Criteria for regarding an injury as serious

The RAF considers an injury “serious” if it qualifies as such with reference to the guidelines provided in the Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment (sixth edition) issued by the American Medical Association (AMA). These guidelines provide a vast set of criteria for determining an injured person’s so-called “whole person impairment” (WPI). The WPI is expressed as a percentage.

The Minister of Transport set the threshold percentage at 30 percent, which means that the accident victim must be assessed as being 30 percent whole-person impaired in order to qualify for an award of general damages. Such an assessment can be made only by an appropriate medical specialist (who has the requisite qualification from the AMA), after the victim has reached maximum medical recovery, which means that the injuries have stabilised and have not notably improved or deteriorated for several months before the assessment.

Examples of injuries that may meet the 30 percent threshold are amputations, permanent brain damage and paraplegia.

If an injury isn't rated as 30 percent WPI in terms of the AMA guidelines, the medical practitioner may apply a “narrative test” to determine whether the claimant may still be entitled to compensation for general damages. In this case, an injury can be classified as serious only if it has resulted in:

* Long-term impairment or the loss of a body function.

* Permanent, severe disfigurement.

* A serious long-term mental or behavioural disturbance or disorder.

* The loss of an unborn child.

Common road accident injuries that have by regulation been classified as not being serious (unless there are complications) include whiplash, sprains, torn ligaments, the loss of fingers or toes and superficial wounds.

Examples of RAF payouts for pedestrians

In 2014, a 21-year-old man was hit by a car, while he was walking alongside the road in Mpumalanga. The accident resulted in major leg injuries including an above-knee amputation and the man was awarded R1 519 880.

Another case saw a mother make claims against the RAF after her child was hit by a car.

The three-year-old sustained brain injuries and a leg fracture for which she was hospitalised for a month. Her mother was awarded R2 039 259 from the RAF for medical expenses, general damages and loss of income.

In a RAF pedestrian claim that proceeded to the High Court, a young girl was awarded R5 995 031 after being hit by a taxi. The girl was walking to school along the pavement when the taxi hit her, causing serious injuries.

RAF claim time limit

RAF claims for pedestrians are subject to the same time limits as other RAF claims.

Even if you have a valid personal injury claim and plenty of evidence to support it, your claim will come to nothing if the time limit for pursuing it is exceeded. Also known as prescription periods, these time limits vary depending on the type of claim you have, so it's wise to obtain advice from a suitably qualified attorney.

Kirstie Haslam is a partner at DSC Attorneys.

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