RAF 'double dealing' claimants

22 April 2015 - 02:17 By Bianca Capazorio

The struggling Road Accident Fund stands accused of fraud. It allegedly used its own lawyers to sue itself in a bid to buy time to pay out its claims.The Times has proof of at least two cases where the RAF instructed law firms from their own panel of contracted attorneys to issue summons against the fund on behalf of claimants.DA MPs Manny de Freitas and Chris Hunsinger, who uncovered the cases, said that the practice is unethical and constitutes fraud because the attorneys are issuing summonses in the names of claimants who have no knowledge thereof. They yesterday laid charges at the Cape Town police station against the fund's CEO Eugene Watson.The first case involves a 35-year-old woman from Virginia in the Free State, and the second, a 46-year-old man from Mahikeng, in North West. In the woman's case the RAF also instructed a second set of attorneys to defend the case, which their first set of attorneys lodged.The Times has in its possession a copy of the notice to defend, dated March 2015 and issued by the Road Accident Fund.Both claimants had personally approached the RAF after being involved in accidents - but the process took so long that the three-year period that the RAF has in which to administer claims was about to prescribe.Unbeknown to the claimants, the RAF then instructed its own contracted attorneys to issue summons. Both of the summonses cite the claimants as plaintiffs and the RAF as the defendant.In the first case a woman from Virginia was a passenger in a car which rolled in 2008. She fractured her right radius (arm bone) and, according to her claim, continues to experience problems and pain as a result of the injury which requires ongoing treatment. Her total claim is now R420000, and her case is still pending.Her attorney, Waldo Snyman, said that a summons was issued on her behalf by the Road Accident Fund attorneys in the North Gauteng High Court in October 2013.She approached Snyman's firm Van Zyl Le Roux in October 2014 after her previous legal bids came to nought.Said Snyman: "We proceeded to terminate the Road Accident Fund's mandate in the matter."The Times has seen written correspondence from the attorneys briefed by the RAF.In both cases the attorneys acknowledge they were never briefed by the plaintiffs but rather by the fund itself. They both state that their only role is to interrupt prescription and they have no role in the finalisation of settlement.The attorneys acting in the man from Mahikeng's case stated in their correspondence that the RAF would pay them directly. His case has also not yet been settled.De Freitas and Hunsinger said not only would the RAF's actions result in the two claimants incurring unnecessary legal costs, but the fund was also wasting money on litigation that is not mandated.The RAF is technically insolvent and was given a bail-out by Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene in this year's Budget in the form of a 50c/l fuel levy.In the 2013/14 financial year it paid out R22-billion in claims.The RAF has previously complained about the attorney's fees it has had to pay and accused attorneys of taking advantage of the fund. The fund spends about R4.2-billion on legal fees every year.RAF spokesman Linda Rulashe said the fund could not respond as the matter was sub judice.She said: "The RAF further stresses that the confidentiality of the claimants' information is strictly protected and therefore it will be inappropriate to comment on any information relating to an active claim without the express consent of the claimants."The RAF yesterday released a statement saying it would not comment on the allegations of fraud until such time as it had seen the charge sheet.

This article is reserved for Sunday Times subscribers.

A subscription gives you full digital access to all Sunday Times content.

Already subscribed? Simply sign in below.

Registered on the BusinessLIVE, Business Day, Financial Mail or Rand Daily Mail websites? Sign in with the same details.

Questions or problems? Email helpdesk@timeslive.co.za or call 0860 52 52 00.