Pretoria - Chaos erupted yesterday as hundreds of attorneys queued at Sammy Marks Square in the Pretoria CBD, to take up the offer from the Road Accident Fund (RAF) to negotiate block settlements for accident victims.
Several attorneys who did not want to be identified for fear of victimisation, told the Pretoria News that they had been queuing at the venue since noon on Sunday.
“We did this to ensure a place in the queue as the RAF said it will be on a first come, first serve basis,” one of the attorneys said. According to her, she and her colleagues took turns to stand in the queue.
To make matters worse, nothing came of their efforts, as the office set up by the RAF on the first floor of the Sammy Marks Convention Centre failed to open on Monday.
Around lunch time hundreds of attorneys, armed with their client’s files, were told to leave and to return today.
When a group of disgruntled lawyers who had braved the cold and the unsafe conditions throughout the night were not happy to leave without being assisted with their prospective settlements, the police were called in.
“Bizarre and chaotic” is how one of the attorneys described the situation.
But the RAF responded that the “chaotic” situation was not of the fund’s doing, but “by attorneys who did not want to queue in an orderly fashion”.
“RAF representatives were at the venue on time to provide the necessary services, but these were temporarily suspended to ensure order could be maintained.
“It should also be noted that many of the individuals who were outside the block settlement venue were not even attorneys at all, but people who attorneys had paid to wait in line for them,” Linda Rulashe of the RAF said.
Meanwhile, faced with scores of claims on behalf of their clients that are simply hanging in the air, the attorneys were grateful at the opportunity to meet an RAF claims handler face to face to see whether they could settle the claims.
This, especially as they say it is virtually impossible to get a date at the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, for a case to be placed on the court roll. One attorney said that at this stage, the next available court date for an RAF civil trial is in October 2025.
While many are eager to try to settle their cases directly with the RAF, they said this was nearly impossible for various reasons.
So, when they received an invitation from the RAF last week saying that it would entertain block settlements for the rest of the week, hundreds of eager attorneys jumped at the opportunity to try and get an outcome for their clients. Desperate to settle their cases, the attorneys said that many of their clients were down and out.
“They have been waiting for a long time for compensation. Many depend solely on their RAF payout to survive,” one attorney said.
In the past the RAF has facilitated block settlements – where attorneys take their files and negotiate a settlement. But, as one attorney said, these were structured.
“We were invited last year to attend block settlements at the RAF’s Menlyn branch. But then we got a time slot when we should go and how many cases we could negotiate. This time there was no communication, other than to say it will be on a first come, first served basis at Sammy Marks Square.”
The only guidance on the RAF’s notice was that “there will be free parking”. But this also did not turn out to be correct, some said, as they had to park outside on the street.
Things turned sour from the start, as they were promised that the office would open at 8am and those first in line would be helped immediately. But the office remained closed.
To make things worse, those outside the doorways were told to leave and to wait in the square itself. As a result, they lost their place in the queue, despite having camped out there.
An RAF official at one stage spoke over a loudspeaker, telling the attorneys that pushing and shoving would not be tolerated, and asking them to leave. “People have been queuing here since noon on Sunday. There is no organisation. The attorneys got repeatedly chased back in the street and back in again. It is simply crazy,” one attorney said.
Conrad van der Vyver, an executive committee member of the Pretoria Attorneys’ Association, hailed the RAF for embarking on a block settlement process, but said it should be be done in a structured manner.
“It is a step in the right direction, but the attorneys are left in the dark. They have no idea how many of their cases can be settled during this session.
“There is simply no communication. The fact that there are so many attorneys here shows how desperate they are to settle their cases, without going the litigation route,” he said.
The disgruntled attorneys meanwhile vowed to be back today.
Rulashe, meanwhile, explained that the RAF’s Menlyn regional branch had introduced block settlements to expedite financial relief to victims of road crashes. It is a means for law firms to negotiate the finalisation of claims in order to ensure swift and fair settlements.
She said for the 2023/2024 financial year, correspondence was sent to plaintiff attorneys on May 23, 2023, inviting them to venues in Limpopo, North West, Mpumalanga and Gauteng North on set dates, over a period of six months from June to December to finalise the settlements.
“The communication to these legal practitioners and organisations clearly stated that services would be on a “first come, first served” basis.”
She said the number of files per firm would be determined by the volumes on the day, and that the RAF reserved the right to defer excess numbers of firms each day to the next available session over the period.
“Where appropriate, priority would be given to firms who were attending block settlement for the first time.
“A decision was taken by the RAF management to schedule this exercise in this manner based on learnings from last year’s block settlement exercise where attorneys were scheduled through a list, which later caused complaints from various firms who could not be attended to during that period.”
Rulashe said this was because of the vast number of lawyers who had availed themselves during that period.
“It should also be noted that block settlements are undertaken and balanced against other crucial claims and litigation activities of the organisation, such as the daily lodgement and pre-assessment of new claims, assessment and settlement of compliant claims, attendance to action and motion proceedings in the Gauteng, Mpumalanga, Limpopo, North West and Free-State divisions of the high court respectively, as well as the processing of medical undertaking certificates and claims’ payments.”
The RAF meanwhile urged all attorneys to “conduct themselves in a professional manner and, at all times, follow the strict guidelines issued by the RAF staff” if they went back today.