Court orders Road Accident Fund officials to pay up for bungling
A High Court judge has slammed the Road Accident Fund (RAF) for wasting court time and taxpayers’ money, punishing the “incompetence and dishonesty” of officials by ordering them to pay costs personally.
Pointing out that it was not the first time that legitimate claims had been “frivolously frustrated” by Fund officials, Judge JC Froneman ordered two employees to contribute towards the legal costs of an unnecessary postponement. He labelled the case “a sorry saga”.
Plaintiff Xolani Bovungana, a self-employed builder and Fine Arts university graduate, had to have both legs amputated – one above the knee, one below the knee – after he was struck by a vehicle while walking on a pavement.
The RAF contested its liability to compensate Bovungana for any damages suffered as a result of his injuries, and the matter was set down to be heard in the Eastern Cape Division of the High Court.
Handing down judgment in the High Court, Judge Froneman criticised the RAF for not administering Bovungana’s claim with “integrity and efficiency”.
A summons was issued in October 2007, accompanied by medical and loss-of-earnings reports, and notice was given of the expert witnesses that counsel for the plaintiff intended to call. The Fund did not file any notice of expert witnesses.
“In short, everything was in place for the plaintiff’s representatives and the Fund to resolve any outstanding issues in a sensible and responsible manner without having to incur the costs of a High Court trial,” the judge related.
Bovungana’s disability was not contested and indications were that the two parties would settle the matter out of court, with the Fund finally conceding in January 2009 that it was liable to pay compensation. All that remained was to agree on a reasonable assessment of damages for pain and suffering, and loss of income.
However, a few days later, the Fund’s attorneys withdrew from the case, new attorneys were appointed and were instructed by the RAF to seek a postponement. The judge found that the contradictory affidavits subsequently filed by two RAF officials amounted to “an irresponsible exercise of the Fund’s responsibilities” and were “an attempt to mislead the court”.
Certain of the RAF’s actions constituted “a callous disregard for the Fund’s primary responsibility to administer the public funds under its control in the interests of road accident victims,” Judge Froneman found.
He pointed out that a matter that should never have been allowed to proceed to trial, and that was essentially uncontested, had ended up incurring three days of costs in the High Court, due to the “reckless and prejudicial conduct” of RAF officials. The potential costs and expenses unnecessarily incurred were estimated to be between R80,000 and R100,000.
The judge awarded Bovungana R5,8 million plus legal costs, and also ordered the Fund and the two officials to pay the costs of the application for the postponement of the trial on an attorney-and-client scale (de bonis propriis).
“This sorry saga should not have happened,” he said. “It is, unfortunately, not an isolated
instance of how the Fund conducts litigation in this province.”
Michael de Broglio of De Broglio Attorneys, agreed with the judge that the Fund’s conduct displayed not only a reckless disregard for court procedures, but also for the victims of road accidents.
Case results depend upon a variety of factors unique to each case. Case results do not guarantee or predict a similar result in any future case.