When lodging a claim with the Road Accident Fund ("RAF"), road accident victims ("claimants") may claim compensation under different heads of damages, i.e. past loss of earnings, future loss of earnings/earning capacity, general damages, past hospital and medical expenses, future hospital and medical expenses, as well as loss of support claims. In some people's minds, 'payment of compensation' would only occur when the RAF makes payments sounding in money. While it is true that paying compensation would require the RAF to pay successful claimants in money, this is not always the case when it comes to future hospital and medical expenses.

Section 17(4)(a) of the Road Accident Fund Act gives the RAF powers to furnish a successful claimant with a document in terms of which the RAF undertakes to compensate the claimant for accident-related future hospitalisation, treatment, medication, and/or similar expenses. This document is generally called the Section 17 undertaking, and it obliges the RAF to reimburse the successful claimant for reasonable hospital and medical expenses which the claimant will incur due to the accident-related injuries, for the rest of the claimant's life.

Naturally, some road accident victims would prefer to receive money from the RAF, as opposed to a "piece of paper". This has the effect of downplaying the importance of the undertaking. Therefore, it is important to understand that the undertaking is not just a piece of paper, but a very important document, which has its own benefits.

It may be beneficial for claimants to request that the RAF furnishes them with the undertaking, as opposed to undergoing the exercise of quantifying ("putting a Rand value to") their claims for future hospital and medical expenses, for reasons that follow. The claimants and their legal representatives (where appointed) rely heavily on the medical experts' findings and recommendations when quantifying the claims. At the time of preparing the reports, the medical experts may not be in a position to postulate the exact amount in respect of future medical expenses, as a result of the uncertainty of the future. Furthermore, the effects of claimant's injuries may exacerbate and lead to complications which were unforeseen at the time of the preparation of the medico-legal report/s. Should this happen, it may possibly put the claimant in an unfortunate position if the RAF had paid or agreed to pay to the claimant a specified amount in respect of future medical expenses. Therefore, being in possession of the undertaking places the claimant in a much better position, as they would be able to use it in such circumstances.

In conclusion, it is vital to appreciate that the Section 17 undertaking does not place the successful claimant in a worse position than they would be if the RAF had made a payment sounding in money. Instead, the claimant may be in a better position if furnished with the undertaking, depending on the circumstances. Should claimants feel aggrieved when offered the undertaking as compensation, it is advisable to discuss such concerns with their legal representatives.

Originally published 30 August 2021

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