The Constitutional Court on Thursday morning dealt a brutal blow to dodgy personal accident lawyers who have been fleecing thousands of clients over a twelve-year period.
Prior to May 1998, attorneys could not undertake contingency fee litigation at all. Since 1998 attorneys could only do contingency fee litigation in terms of the Contingency Fees Act. Many attorneys have shown a flagrant disregard for the law, and the fundamental rights of victims of road accidents. Today’s apex court judgment clarifies any doubt that may have existed regarding how attorneys may charge contingency fees.
Juanne de la Guerre was a passenger in a motor vehicle in which she was injured. She suffered head and spinal injuries. The Road Accident Fund (RAF) claim was relatively straightforward. She was awarded R2.5,m by the court.
It came as a shock to her when she established that her attorneys, Ronald Bobroff & Partners (RBP), represented by Darren Bobroff, had charged her R868 000 in professional fees, excluding disbursements, when they had in truth only done no more than R250 000 in legal work.
Today’s judgment was in respect of two intertwined cases. The first was that of RBP who challenged a full bench of the North Gauteng High Court who had ordered them to provide an itemised account to de la Guerre and to refund what they had overcharged her. The second one was that of South African Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (Saapil) which challenged the constitutionality of the Contingency Fees Act.
In handing down judgment, the Court pointed out, “The right of access to justice is that of the legal practitioners’ clients, not that of the legal practitioners themselves.”
In considering Saapil’s submissions the judges unanimously found that, “The action was not brought as a class action – as alleged by Saapil – but as one where personal injury lawyers acted on their own behalf.” The judges stressed that, “Even if the practitioners sought to bring it on behalf of others, there is no evidence that their clients’ right have been limited by the Contingency Fees Act.”
In conclusion the judges said that there were absolutely no reasonable prospects of success in the matter.
Ronald Bobroff told Moneyweb that he hoped that, “Government will have regard to this anomalous situation and effect appropriate legislation, enabling adult litigants to freely contract with their attorneys as they choose, without being confined within the straight jacket of the ambiguous and impractical Contingency Fees Act, and being forced to publicly disclose extremely sensitive and personal confidential information as a requirement of any settlement.”
Attorney Anthony Millar of Norman Berger & Partners, who represented de la Guerre, has long been the object of a malicious smear campaign by the Bobroffs. He told Moneyweb after judgment was handed down, “It is clear that all Ronald Bobroff has done for the legal profession is to bring it into disrepute under the guise of a benevolent benefactor.”
View Moneyweb’s interview with Anthony Millar here:
and Moneyweb’s interview with Norman Berger here: