VALUE OF A HUMAN LIFE HAS TO BE MORE?

11/11/2009 14:59

The Consumer Council Fiji is calling on all relevant stakeholders to accord reasonable and fair compensation to victims of road accidents by putting in place proper redress mechanisms.

The measly sum that a third party victim is allowed to receive under current legislations governing third party insurance is an insult to our right to life being loosely protected without due consideration to fair redress. Millions of dollars are paid out annually to insurance companies in the form of compulsory third party insurance (CTPI) by consumers of public and private transportation. Since the Government has made third party insurance compulsory, motor vehicles cannot be registered or run on the road until the third party insurance cover is bought.

Bus owners, for example, pay insurance premiums between $353.00 to $400.00 per bus for accident cover that is either $40,000 for a whole bus or $4,000 for a passenger. When compensation for a busload of forty passengers is calculated, each passenger ends up receiving $1000 each. If an individual passenger in a vehicle accident claims he or she may receive a maximum of $4000 only.

Is this the value of a human life? Is the physical, emotional and psychological trauma a victim goes through not justifiable to have a fair system of compensation. Currently the legislation limits the amount paid out for compensation from Insurance companies unless one is able to seek redress through Court System.

The fact that Third Party Insurance is compulsory for all vehicle owners to purchase is not beneficial to its intended purpose because “Third Party Ordinance “which was initially set up in 1948 to “make provision for compulsory insurance against third party risks arising out of the motor vehicles” has exclusions or limitations. The limitations vary from delayed compensation due to court proceedings; or no compensation due to error of driver; or wrongful use of vehicle. Whilst the Insurance companies are protected by law, the concern that Consumer Council has is, who pays for the undue stress and loss of lives the innocent third parties (and their families) suffer?

The commissioned survey by the Council also supported the facts that the compulsory third party policy was not readily available to clients as claimed by Insurance Companies. In addition, the Reserve Bank of Fiji, as the regulator of Insurance Companies has had no say in the premiums as this was left entirely in the hands of the Insurance companies. Many victims were compelled to seek redress in the Courts and this was not only an expensive but a cumbersome exercise. The victims had to suffer added pressure and relieve the pain of their trauma in Court all over again when it could have been expedited through a one stop consumer redress mechanism.

Consumer Council urges all stakeholders to stop the apathy and act now.

The Council is of the view that redress for accident victims should be simple and not be divided between different agencies. Victims should get fair claims that they deserve by approaching an institution that is less adversarial and efficient to save costs, time and lessen the impact of the trauma they are enduring. Victim(s) or loved ones need not go through the added ordeal of courts and paying expensive lawyers on top of their misfortune. Fiji should have an Accident Compensation Commission (ACC) to deal with all accidents including motor vehicle accidents, workplace accidents and general accidents.

Policy and law reform is critically needed in this area to provide adequate and fair compensation for loss of lives and the also for the injured party who later becomes a burden on the family and the State through health or medical costs.

Whatever role we play, we must all take responsibility to help change legislations, institutional policies and attitudes so that accident victims are fairly compensated.