Saturday, February 17, 2007

There’s a reason the Road Accident Fund is broke. RAF III

The Naidoos needed insurance information from the Lemoens. Since the car was owned by Mother Lemoen, the information needed to come from her. Because of her rude telephone call to Mike the day of the accident, her number was in Mike’s cell phone. But, because of her rudeness to him, Mike was unwilling to call and subject himself to further abuse. Mrs. Naidoo volunteered to make the call. In her best business voice, she asked Mother Lemoen for her insurance information, but the woman had no idea with whom she was insured. Unfortunately, Paul Lemoen, the other driver, took the phone from his mother and belligerently challenged Mrs. Naidoo’s quest for information. Upon learning her identity, he launched into a lengthy rant, accusing Mike of having been rude to his mother by hanging up on her in the middle of their phone conversation. Mrs. Naidoo calmly responded that her husband had ended the connection because his mother had been verbally abusing her husband, to which Lemoen bellowed that his sweet little old mother would never do anything like that, and so Mike was a liar on top of everything else. And then Lemoen hung up on Mrs. Naidoo!

The Naidoos supplied their insurance company with what little information Mrs. Naidoo had been able to get from Mother Lemoen and learned that repairs to Mike’s car was going to come to R157,000. After a tense few weeks, they learned that the insurance company was authorizing the repair, but not before they got a letter from Mother Lemoen’s attorney, claiming R22,000 for the repair of her car…the car she had screamed to Mike was a write-off. In a matter of weeks, Mother Lemoen’s car was back on the road…it took five months for Mike’s car to be repaired.

The Naidoos eventually received a copy of the complete police report. Mrs. Naidoo checked for Lemoen’s driving license number and discovered (through the format of the number) that Lemoen was driving on an invalid license, as he had not converted to the credit card format, the conversion period having ended in August of 2002…2 ½ years before the collision. The police report, she found, took no notice and made no specific mention of Mr. Lemoen’s driving with an invalid licence…would it make a difference to the insurance company? She also noted that the Constable’s drawing of the scene did not include the skidmarks of Mr. Lemoen’s car or any witness statements.

A couple of months after the collision Mike was informed that the criminal charges against him had been dropped by the police, but that he had been found to be the responsible party in the collision. Additionally, the police had declined to prosecute the Lemoens for Crimen Injuria, despite have an eye (and ear) witness to the offence. And the decision was not open to discussion or appeal. Mike’s insurance company was tasked with paying not only for the repair of Mother Lemoen’s car (despite the driver having been driving without a valid driving license) and his own car, a total figure approaching R200,000.

A year and a half after the collision, Mike received mail from the Road Accident Fund, a form he was asked to complete. Thinking it was just a matter of a bureaucracy being rather behind in its paperwork, he completed the form and sent it back.

Then, almost two years to the day after the collision, Mike received a phone call from a Mr. Evans of the Road Accident Fund, asking for a personal interview, as a claim had been filed and they needed to speak with Mike before deciding the claim. Three days later Mike and his wife sat down with Mr. Evans, and a remarkable set of revelations unfolded. It seems that Mrs. Lemoen’s superficial forehead cut had somehow come to R26,000 in medical bills, enough money for a complete facelift! “How,” Mike asked Mr. Evans, “did Mrs. Lemoen come to have a cut on her forehead if she was wearing her seatbelt?” Mr. Evans conceded this to be a valid question. If, after all, a settlement from the Road Accident Fund was calculated based on the degree of negligence of the various parties, didn’t Mrs. Lemoen’s failure to wear a seatbelt constitute significant negligence on her part?

After he had put numerous questions to Mike, Mr. Evans remarked that he had already spoken to Mr. Visser, who very clearly remembered the collision, and remained indignant over the treatment Mike had suffered at the tongues of the Lemoens. “That Indian guy,” Evans quoted Visser as saying, “He jumped right out of his car and ran to help them, didn’t pay no attention to himself, and they cursed him!” Mike’s statement coincided with Mr. Visser’s exactly, Mr. Evans revealed, and their stories did not support Lemoen’s version of the events. “Visser is a completely independent party,” Evans told the Naidoos. “He has nothing to gain or to lose in this, so he is believable.”

Evans was a disarming kind of guy…short, stout, carelessly dressed and groomed, one’s first impression of him might be that the guy was a dimly lit bulb in the long chain of flickering South African bureaucratic lights. Whether it was by accident or by design, Evans’ appearance was such that his naturally sharp and wily mind was not immediately obvious. When Mrs. Naidoo handed him some freshly printed colour copies of the accident-scene photographs, Evans grinned broadly as he accepted them. Opening his folder, he showed her dark black-and-white photocopies of her original photos and pointed out the barely visible skidmarks in one of the copies. “This,” he said, pointing to the colour version of his black-and-white photo, “this is what I wanted to see.” He explained that from the photos of the skidmarks they could calculate Lemoen’s speed and trajectory, and from that, what degree of negligence in the accident should be assigned to him.

“But the police assigned responsibility for the accident to me,” Mike interjected. Mr. Evans assured him that the Road Accident Fund was conducting its own investigation and that they would actually be bringing an accident reconstruction specialist out to the scene to reconstruct in the most minute detail, based on testimony, Mike’s photos, and scientific calculations, how to parcel out the fault.

Mike remained puzzled. This seemed to be an awful lot of effort…reconstructing the accident scene, taking the whole thing to court for adjudication, which meant paying not only the accident reconstruction specialist and Mr. Evans, but court costs, and lawyer’s and advocate’s fees as well. Wasn’t this kind of overkill for Mrs. Lemoen’s medical claim? He didn’t doubt the claim was inflated (having a physician for a father-in-law could be quite helpful in such an instance, could it not?), but wasn’t this investigation costing more than the R26,000 she was claiming in medical expenses?

Mr. Evans shook his head. “If that is all it was, we would give her the R26,000 for the medical bills,” he said.

It turns out that Mrs. Lemoen, who doesn’t live in South Africa but in a pricey yuppie suburb of London, whose husband’s base salary is more than likely in excess of £500,000 (R6.5 million) per year (and which, surely, includes a fine medical aid scheme), and who, herself, apparently owns a lucrative import-export business in the UK…this well-heeled and privileged woman who neither lives in South Africa nor pays taxes here, is claiming damages from South Africa’s Road Accident Fund (which gets its money from your pocket and mine at the petrol pumps) the amount of FOURTEEN MILLION RANDS.

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