The Road Accident Lawyer and Claims from Road Crashes
A very real threat for South Africans is becoming the victim of a road crash. The Department of Transport has revealed in a 2015 Green Paper that annual road deaths in SA are at a shocking 15,000 lives lost. These numbers do not make reference to the thousands of victims who survive with injury and disability.
There is much debate on whether the proposed Road Accident Benefit Scheme will provide the injury cover to adequately protect our road users. There is also some uncertainty as to how road crash victims will have access to this Scheme, what the role of road accident lawyers will be etc.
We decided to approach a very experienced road accident lawyer, Corne van de Venter, with a Q&A to gain some insights into the role of lawyers in claiming from the Road Accident Fund and assisting victims of road crashes...
Can you tell us more about your career as a lawyer and the focus on assisting the victims of road crashes with their claims to the Road Accident Fund?
I have been a lawyer now for 22 years. The most interesting time in my career was the past 13 years watching RoadCover grow from baby shoes to a recognisable Company. We have since then been the panel attorneys for RoadCover. The whole administration process of the RoadCover members’ claims is done by us, from lodgement to settlement of the claim with the RAF or in court.
No fee is deducted from the capital received from the RAF.
The past 13 years have been a real rollercoaster, educating and helping victims, being RoadCover members, delivering outstanding service without taking any fee.
Corne van de Venter matriculated at Belfast High school in 1985. Started her law degree in 1986 and received BA. Law LLB in 1991. She did her articles at Van Wyk de Vries Inc. Attorneys and also at Hofmeyr van der Merwe Inc.
She was admitted in May 1994 since then has been in private practice specializing in Third Party claims against the RAF.
Corne lectures at the LEAD school for legal studies to the candidate attorneys on behalf of the Law Society of South Africa.
Do road users have a fair understanding of their rights to claim in the event that they suffer injury in a road crash or are further efforts required in raising awareness?
We believe that with awareness partners like Arrive Alive, the RAF, RoadCover and several other Insurance Companies the road users are definitely more aware of their rights than a few years ago.
BUT we believe much more can be done on educating and awareness.
There have been allegations of corruption in submitting these claims, not only from the side of lawyers but also medical personnel -Have you come across any instances and do you regard it as important to notify the RAF of such incidents?
Yes, we work with people, and people are fallible. When we come across any fraud at any level, we notify the RAF on their fraud line on 0800 00 59 19 and withdraw as the Attorneys of record immediately. There are however so many checks and balances that we believe it is extremely difficult for a person to reconstruct the whole sequence of events without taking huge risks.
There is a drive towards encouraging road crash victims to submit these claims themselves - what role can the experienced lawyer play and are there specific instances where it is essential that the road crash victim gain expert advice?
The RAF has been trying to encourage the public to directly claim from themselves. In our view, it is extremely difficult to be the administrator and the adjudicator and be totally objective. There have been too many instances where those claims have been under settled and in the end, costs the RAF 3 times the original amount.
The RAF is trying but not succeeding at the moment. The best advice is when a victim is seriously injured to contact an Attorney to lodge and settle a claim on his/her behalf.
What would you regard as being the greatest misconceptions among the public about claims to the RAF?
That it is EASY to get money from the RAF firstly and secondly that all Attorneys doing this kind of work is dishonest and only doing it for their own benefit.
As a team of Lawyers assisting those with claims who are covered through RoadCover, how important is it to discuss cases among one another? Do you confer with one another in ensuring that the crash victim gets the best advice?
It is extremely important to discuss claims amongst each other. In the end, it is all about experience, experience, an experience that make you the better Attorney.
What are the greatest benefits of having a corporate team of lawyers focusing on a specific area of expertise? Do you have an increased capacity to gain other expertise from i.e. the medical profession?
In SA the” Attorney on the corner”, "Jack of all trades master of none" just does not exist anymore. The economic environment and the legal fraternity push Attorneys towards becoming experts in certain fields, and subsequently then being able to give the client the best possible service and advice being at the front of all development.
Most Attorneys are not medical practitioners and have a limited understanding of the field of medicine. . We learn on a daily basis from the medical experts pertaining to a specific injury which can be very difficult and technical.
Any specific incidents that you believe left you with that “feel good” result, knowing you know you have been able to make a significant impact on the life of the victim or his family?
Absolutely, especially with RoadCover members, where every claim gives us the feel-good sensation because the victim receives 100% payout from the RAF with NO deductions.
A particular claim comes to mind where a home industry baker earned R900 per month and the claim was settled with full compensation on future loss of earnings until age 72.
Definitely a good memory!!
What is your greatest concern with regards to the settlement funds? Is there an understanding among victims that this has to last a lifetime? Do you have examples that left you distraught?
The dictum behind lump sum settlements is that the victim and the RAF must reach finality on a claim. Yes, clients are told that the money must be invested and that the claim is a full and final settlement and that one can never go back and ask for more. BUT DO THEY LISTEN? Unfortunately NO.
We have had many instances that leave us distraught but we cannot protect all monies because not all monies need to be protected.
One client gave such a big party after his claim was settled, he died of alcohol and food poison.
What would be your best advice to people injured in a crash - is there anything they can do to gain the assistance that is timeous, effective and fair?
- Do your homework, listen to friends and colleagues.
- Check with the Law Society about the reputation of the Attorney.
- Ask for a letter of good standing.
- Signing with someone when you are lying in the hospital is clearly not good practice.
- Be assertive, ask questions and check the answers you are given.
- Meet with the Attorney personally.
There are many good legal experts that will expertly help you timeously, effectively and fairly!