Johannesburg – A drunk driver has smashed into you, leaving you paralysed and unable to work again. But the driver will have the same rights as you to claim for damages – and you, as the injured party, will have no right to make claims against the driver who caused the crash.

This is the thrust of the controversial Road Accident Benefit Scheme, which a group of lawyers are fighting in an attempt to prevent the bill from being passed by Parliament.

“If (it) goes ahead, it will be one of the most discriminating bills passed in Parliament,” said the Law Society of the Northern Provinces.

The society has launched truthaboutrabs.org, an online campaign to sway public opinion against the Transport Department’s proposed legislation, mooted early last year.

The scheme is intended to replace the fault-based system, administered by the Road Accident Fund (RAF).

LOWER PAYOUTS FOR VICTIMS

“Under (the scheme), accidents will be treated on a no-fault basis. This means all road accident victims will be able to receive minimal benefit payments and no one will be excluded from claiming, even if the accident was their fault,” contends the law society.

“Now, in the event that you caused the accident, you’re excluded from claiming from the RAF, but victims who do qualify to claim, receive substantially higher payments as compensation.”

By contrast, the new scheme would not allow accident victims to recover full losses suffered and would “drastically decrease amounts and benefits payable to them”.

“They want to change the law, ultimately at the expense of the victim,” said Lindy Lagner, a representative of the law society. “Seriously injured victims won’t be able to adjust to their new circumstances.”

IS THE SYSTEM SUSTAINABLE?

The RAF has a deficit of more than R100 million and is operating inefficiently. “They get R3bn a month from the fuel levy. You have to ask: will (the scheme) be to the benefit of the victim or the administrator?”

The department says a “no-fault scheme will create a new era of socio-economic balance” and remove the “unintended negative consequences” and financial burden on the families of the wrongdoer.

Dr Eugene Watson, the chief executive of the RAF, said the fund was “overburdened” by expensive and costly litigation, prolonged claims finalisation and high administrative costs.

“What’s clear is the RAF is not sustainable. Liabilities of more than R130bn (and) awaiting payments of R10.79bn, despite monthly income of almost R3bn, are symptoms of this reality. Under (the proposed scheme), fault will not be considered on the part of the claimant or other persons involved in the road accident.”

CAREGIVER CHOICE NOT YOURS

The department says because of the defined nature of the benefits, “they (would be) transparent and easily understandable by a claimant”.

The focus would be on how the crash victim was immediately assisted. Structured payments would be made directly to claimants, medical and health care service providers.

The law society is critical of this. “This means medical practitioners and caregivers you are entitled to use in the event of an injury will no longer be your choice but dictated.”

NO MORE LUMP SUM PAYMENTS

Lump sum settlements would fall away as the scheme would make monthly payments to beneficiaries, with a maximum of R44 000 a year if they could not prove they earned an income. Many people are unemployed or take piece jobs, said Lagner. The amount is “poor compensation” for a lifetime of lost income.

The department said lump sum payments “are, in many instances, used for the purchase of luxury vehicles, homes and holidays”.

Under the new scheme, said Watson, the “odds will be in favour of the survivor” and there won’t be a need for lawyers, as disputes will be referred to an appeal body.

Lagner countered: “They will be the judge, jury and executioner.”

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