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Punitive costs after claims handlers misled RAF

TWO ROAD Accident Fund (RAF) claims handlers have been slapped with a punitive costs order for insisting that the damages claim instituted by a woman who was injured when she jumped out of a burning bus be disputed.

This was contrary to advice of the legal team appointed by the RAF to handle the claim instituted by Precious Tsotetsi.

While a police report stated what happened the day she was injured when she jumped out of the window of the burning bus, the two claims handlers refused to accept liability on behalf of the RAF.

RAF lawyers had pointed

out that in terms of past case law in similar cases, the RAF had to accept liability. It was only after Gauteng Provincial Division of the High Court Acting Judge President Aubrey Ledwaba called the two claims handlers to chambers to explain themselves, that the matter was settled.

The day before the pair and the legal teams were due to see Judge Ledwaba, the RAF accepted liability and agreed to a settlement.

It was agreed that the RAF would pay Tsotetsi R500 000 and her medical expenses.

Apart from making this agreement an order, the judge ruled that the RAF or the two claims handlers in their personal capacity, foot the hefty legal bill.

Tsotetsi, a laboratory assistant from East Lynne, was travelling in a bus along Tsamaya Road in Mamelodi on December 23, 2009 when the bus caught fire.

She was forced to jump out of the window to avoid burning to death.

Among her injuries was a fractured femur.

Gearbox fluid had leaked from the bus, causing it to catch fire.

Tsotetsi was forced to jump out as the driver did not stop in time and she feared for her life.

She blamed the bus company for not properly maintaining the bus.

She instituted summons in July 2012 and although all documentation, including the police report, were included to prove no negligence on her part, the RAF did not offer a settlement.

The RAF simply denied knowledge of any of the allegations.

A year later the RAF had still not investigated the matter.

It continued denying liability until last week, when the trial was due to start.

It, however, did consult experts regarding the financial damages Tsotetsi had suffered despite being set on fighting her claim.

On the day of the trial, the RAF indicated it was contesting the claim in its entirety.

The claims handler (who is not a lawyer) instructed the fund’s legal team to fight the claim, as “Tsotetsi was the author of her own misfortune, by jumping out of the bus”.

The RAF’s legal team pointed out to their client that it was a lost cause but the claims handlers would have none of it.

The matter came to a head on the eve before Judge Ledwaba was due to see the parties in chambers.

Tsotseti’s lawyer, Pieter Coetzee of Gert Nel Incorporated, asked the judge to consider that the two claims handlers, instead of the RAF alone, had contributed to the wasted legal costs.

He said the pair acted in bad faith by going against their legal team.

He said the RAF was a public body and its claims handlers should not be allowed to act in a manner that resulted in a waste of taxpayers’ money.

Coetzee said the fact that the court had acted against the claims handlers was a huge victory to road users in general, as the court demonstrated its dissatisfaction over how the claim was handled.

“The fund, in its failure to properly administer these claims, makes it very difficult for us as attorneys to timeously bring justice to our clients.”

Coetzee said he feared that once the Road Accident Benefit Scheme Act came into operation, victims of vehicle accidents would suffer, as they would no longer be able to fight their claims in court, but be at the mercy of the RAF which will adjudicate the claims itself.