Short-changed by RAF; now a millionaire

Shortchanged by RAF
Abel Lebereko, who took on the RAF – and won.

PHOTOGRAPHER and car crash victim Abel Thabiso Lebereko emerged from the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria an instant millionaire after the initial R200 000 he received from the Road Accident (RAF) was replaced with R2.3 million.

After initially going the direct route and claiming damages against the RAF, he was short-changed by a whopping R2.1m.

The 43-year-old was severely injured in a car accident in 2008. He lodged his claim directly with the RAF and was paid R200 000 by way of a settlement agreement the following year.

After feeling his claim was under-settled, Lebereko turned to a lawyer, and this week lawyers acting for the fund conceded that he had received far too little in the matter.

Now, eight years later, they settled for R2 351 230, with the R200 000 he had received deducted from this amount.

Lebereko is a photographer and the accident – in which one of his eyes was so severely damaged that he could no longer use it – hampered his profession.

His main activity as photographer was taking pictures at children’s parties, something he said he could no longer do because “with the scar disfiguring his face, children had become scared of him”.

Lebereko was involved in a car accident in June 2008 along the N14 between Postmasburg and Kathu. He suffered various injuries, including a skull fracture which left him with serious brain injury, fractures to the facial bones and a serious injury to his left eye.

While in hospital in Kimberley, he was approached by an employee of the RAF, who advised him to institute a claim directly to the fund.

He was told at the time that his claim would be properly investigated and assessed by the fund.

He said he was told that he would receive “proper compensation” for his injuries. He believed that his claim was in good hands, he said.

Lebereko said he was later asked how much he wanted for his claim. As a layman, he had no idea what amount he should be paid given his injuries or what he was entitled to in terms of the law.

He said he wanted R120 000, but was told at the time that it was “a bit low” and that the fund would pay him R200 000, together with an undertaking to pay his future medical expenses. Lebereko accepted this. It was only later that he realised the severity of his injuries requiring a lot more in damages to be paid to him.

He turned to Gert Nel Incorporated, attorneys in Pretoria, who are experts in RAF cases, after he realised that he was short-changed all those years ago.

Nel said it was a pity that the claim had only meaningfully been settled after all these years.

“If he went to a lawyer from the start it would have only taken 36 months to conclude his claim and not eight years. He would then have been paid for his actual damages and not some amount which was thumb-sucked.”

Lebereko said, in his summons before the high court in Pretoria, that the RAF had breached its legal duty towards him as it did not have his best interests at heart.

Lawyer André van der Westhuizen, who assisted him during the last round, said it was now agreed he was entitled to R2 151 230. Judge Cynthia Pretorius made the settlement an order of court.

He commended the RAF’s legal team for their efforts to reach a fair settlement during this round.

Nel said armed with his new settlement, Lebereko could now receive the medical attention he deserved. He underwent a host of operations in the past and needed to undergo more in future, especially to his face and eye.

The RAF is known to encourage accident victims to claim directly from the fund because, it says, lawyers cheat them by taking large sums of money from their settlements.

But Nel said Lebereko was one of the lucky ones who did the right thing by turning to a lawyer.

“How many more people are out there who were short-changed?”

RAF spokesperson Thandeka Ngwenya said the fund was investigating and would soon respond to the allegations.