My colleagues and I often care for patients suffering from hallucinations, prophesying, and claiming to speak with God, among other symptoms—in mental health care, it’s sometimes very difficult to tell apart religious belief from mental illness…. Our conclusions frequently stem from the behaviors we see before us. Take an example of a man who walks into an emergency department, mumbling incoherently. He says he’s hearing voices in his head, but insists there’s nothing wrong with him. He hasn’t used any drugs or alcohol. If he were to be evaluated by mental health professionals, there’s a good chance he might be diagnosed with a psychotic disorder like schizophrenia. But what if that same man were deeply religious? What if his incomprehensible language was speaking in tongues?
Business Day reports that the Constitutional Court will today begin hearing arguments on whether a section of the Road Accident Fund Act governing the prescription of a claim is inconsistent with the constitution.
Section 23 (1) of the act sets a three-year limit for claimants to claim compensation after an accident. The fund is responsible for paying claims of accident victims and is financed by a fuel levy imposed on motorists.
This section is being challenged by accident victim Vusumzi Mdeyide, whose claim the fund rejected because it was instituted three days after the three-year period expired.
The fund is challenging the action, saying removing this clause will impede the fund’s expeditious processing of claims. The fund said it would also be difficult for it to forecast financial liability for outstanding claims.
Mdeyide, 38, has been blind since childhood and cannot read or write. He applied to the East London Circuit Court for compensation from the fund. Acting Judge Viwe Notshe found section 23(1) limited the right of claimants’ access to courts.
The right in issue is the right of access to courts guaranteed in section 34 of the Bill of Rights. I have not made a specific study of this case, but given the perilous state of the finances of the RAF, the Constitutional Court seems to find themselves in a difficult position.
On the one hand, a blind man – one of the most vulnerable members of society – is being denied something that others can claim. On the other hand, it seems to make sense to limit claims against the RAF to ensure that the fund does not go bankrupt. Much will depend, I think, on the actual facts of the case and whether the claimant could be said to have been negligent himself. I am glad I do not have to decide this one….