De Broglio Inc has welcomed a landmark High Court ruling that declares unconstitutional the fact that taxi passengers injured in an accident before August 2008 can only claim a maximum of R25 000 for their injuries.
On 28 June 2010, Western Cape High Court Judge J Bozalek found that certain sections of the Road Accident Fund Act (No 56 of 2006) that applied before it was amended on 1 August 2008 were inconsistent with the Constitution, and therefore invalid.
He referred the judgment to the Constitutional Court for confirmation of this ruling.
The court application was brought by Anele Mvumbu and two others against the Minister of Transport and the Road Accident Fund. The claimants were unhappy that the previous law limited taxi passengers who were in road accidents where the driver of the vehicle in which they were travelling was at fault, to only R25 000 (special and general damages combined) in compensation. This, however, only applied if that taxi had a valid permit at the time of the accident; if not, the claim was limited to R25 000 for special damages only.
Mvumbu was seriously injured in an accident on 14 February 2005 when the driver of an unlicensed minibus taxi in which she was travelling lost control of the vehicle, which then rolled, killing the driver. As a result of the accident, Mvumbu had to be hospitalised for two months and her right foot was partially amputated. This resident of an informal settlement is now permanently disabled and has been unable to retain permanent employment as a result of her injuries.
The Fund had admitted liability but had pointed out that as a taxi passenger, her third-party claim was limited to R25 000 special damages only, and that it had already paid out more than that amount for her medical treatment.
The second and third applicants had similar stories, although the one was travelling in a licensed minibus taxi and the other in a vehicle owned by her employer.
Although the relevant provisions have since been amended (in 2008) to be more equitable towards taxi passengers, the three were in accidents before the changes came into effect and were therefore bound by the old laws.
They argued that the previous law, under which their cases fell, was in breach of their right to equality as outlined in the Bill of Rights. The judge agreed that the former law amounted to unfair discrimination, as users of public transport are usually black and poor.
The minister and the RAF indicated that they would abide by any decision the court may arrive at regarding the application.
The ruling applies to pending claims that will or have been lodged under the previous law. Victims of taxi accidents that took place within that time frame will be able to claim a higher amount, as outlined in the Road Accident Fund Amendment Act of 2005.
“This is fantastic news for innocent victims of motor vehicle accidents involving taxis,” said Michael de Broglio. “Under the unamended Act, if you were travelling as a passenger in a taxi that was in an accident that was not the driver’s fault, you would be entitled to decent compensation from the Fund. However, if you were unfortunate enough to be a passenger in the taxi that caused the accident, you could only claim R25 000 – regardless of how severe your injuries were.
“Clearly, this was unfair since taxi passengers do not determine how well or badly their drivers drive. This ruling is a victory for commuters who are often at the mercy of irresponsible and negligent taxi drivers who take unnecessary risks.”