THE Western Cape High Court earlier this week dismissed an exception raised by the Road Accident Fund (RAF) in its defence of a claim by a woman who suffered a spinal injury in a car accident.
The fund had made the point that a chiropractor who submitted a report on behalf of Michelle Geel was not a "medical practitioner" within the meaning of section 24(2)(a) of the Road Accident Fund Act and that, as a result, her claim was not acceptable.
This judgment is one in a long line which berates the fund for sending matters to trial where there were no triable issues. In December, the South Gauteng High Court said in a judgment that this practice should be discouraged as it led to a complete waste of the court’s time.
The chiropractor who treated Ms Geel recorded that she had sustained "fairly severe" injuries to her neck and back, and that she would be required to undergo one to two chiropractic manipulative therapy treatments per month indefinitely, at a current estimated cost of R400 per treatment.
In the case before Judge Ashley Binns-Ward, the fund contended that the Health Professions Act of 1974 defined "medical practitioner" as a person registered under that act and that chiropractors did not qualify for registration under that act, falling instead to be registered in terms of the Allied Health Professions Act of 1982.
The parties agreed that if the court sided with the fund, the claim would have since been extinguished by prescription. The effect of this is that if the fund’s understanding of the act were to be upheld, so too should its special plea of prescription.
Judge Binns-Ward said the purpose of section 24(2)(a) of the Road Accident Fund Act was clear, and was a matter on which there was no excuse for uncertainty or doubt by the fund. The judge said in one case, Supreme Court of Appeal Judge Craig Howie emphasised that it was the function of the fund to investigate and settle compensation claims under the statute and to defend matters only "when litigation is responsibly contestable".
"Thus the information to be provided by a claimant on the prescribed claim form, including the medical report, is plainly to furnish the fund with the basic material upon which to investigate the merits of the matter and assess the amount of compensation to be paid," the judge said.
He said the healthcare professional best qualified to give information on the nature of the injuries sustained and the treatment already given or to be expected, was the practitioner who had been involved in treating the claimant as a patient.
"That is the rationale for the act’s requirement that the medical report accompanying the submission of the claim has to be completed by the treating practitioner, if that person is available."
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