Published in The Citizen 22nd October 2013

RBP has hit back, saying Discovery is trying to close down the firm because it has exposed Discovery’s practice of withholding medical care if patients caught in road accidents fail to sign a form promising to sue the Road Accident Fund for medical costs from their pockets, at their own risk. It says Discovery refuses to provide medical care for road accidents, dog bites and other injuries without such an assurance.

Bobroff says one of his clients, Mark Bellon, was in a coma arising from a road accident. Discovery agents threatened to refuse to allow treatment to continue, despite Bellon hanging onto life by a thread, if his wife, Jody, didn’t sign the RAF undertaking. He says Section 30(2)A of the Medical Schemes Act requires Discovery to explain the RAF condition to members before they sign. In most cases, he says, Discovery does not do this.

He also says the withholding of essential cover to patients contravenes the prescribed minimum benefits that medical aid members are entitled to. The spat between one of South Africa’s largest private-injury law firms and its biggest medical fund administrator became public about 10 days ago when Discovery revealed Bobroff’s contingency fee contracts were illegal and clients who had been overcharged could seek reimbursement, totalling hundreds of millions of rands. Bobroff denies his firm has ever made so much money in turnover, let alone in terms of possible liabilities arising from defective contracts.

He has also accused Discovery of using the same kind of common law contingency fee agreements – contracts between clients and lawyers promising to pay legal fees determined by a percentage of the damages awarded if the case is successful – that his firm uses. “Discovery dishonestly criticises the Law Society-approved fees agreement utilised by RBP in the De la Guerre matter and which Discovery’s in-house collection attorney, Jeffrey Katz, knows is the very agreement used by all Discovery panel attorneys handling RAF claims on behalf of Discovery members,” Bobroff says. He has provided a copy of such an agreement used by Hirschowitz Flionis, one of Discovery’s panel firms.

Bobroff has also defended his use of common law fee agreements, saying they have been used by “thousands of members for more than 10 years”. “The Law Society has issued a certificate stating that there has never, since the practice of Ronald Bobroff and partners was established in 1975, ever been any findings of unprofessional conduct or against its directors,” the firm said in a statement.

Bobroff also attached contingency fee agreements from De Broglio attorneys and Josephs attorneys – two other large personal-injury law firms – to show they also used common law contracts. “Fair-minded medical aid schemes do not, by threat to deprive members of medical care, force their members to claim against the RAF. “Eugene Watson, then-Principle Officer of the second-largest medical scheme in South Africa, GEMS, publicly announced in April 2012 that ‘GEMS has removed those rules that oblige its members to recover their medical costs from the RAF’. “Watson continued to state that ‘GEMS does not think it fair and equitable to recover moneys from members who have third party insurance … and who receive treatment that GEMS is in any case obliged to cover in terms of its benefits in the Prescribed Minimum Benefits’,” Bobroff says.