Beware of touts in South African hospitals: What to watch out for

Increasingly, members of the public are approached by touts in South African hospitals.

You’re at your most fragile after you or a family member has been injured in an accident. What you need at this time is the support of loved ones and trusted medical professionals.

What you don’t need is to be taken in by a tout, looking to take advantage of your misfortune.

What is a tout?

A tout is a person who makes direct and insistent attempts to sell a service or solicit work.

In the legal profession, touting is unethical. It may also be illegal.

In South Africa, the Cape Law Society (CLS), the Law Society of the Northern Provinces (LSNP) and the KwaZulu-Natal Law Society (KZNLS) previously all expressly prohibited touting. Under the new Legal Practice Act, the code of conduct for attorneys stipulates that attorneys may not buy instructions from, or directly or indirectly reward or give other consideration to, a “third party” (tout).

How to identify touts in South African hospitals

The following behaviour is typical of touts in hospitals:

  • they make face-to-face contact with potential clients to sell their services
  • they promise victims and their families large sums of money as compensation in personal injury claims
  • often, they employ people to arrange referrals and introductions to potential clients (this can include tow-truck drivers, first responders and even police officers)
  • they make unsolicited phones calls and send emails to people who already have client/attorney relationships.

Touts typically hang around accident scenes and emergency rooms. They pressure individuals into contracting legal services. Often, their goal is to secure clients who will make claims against the Road Accident Fund (RAF).

A tout may also attempt to solicit details about an accident, or to collect that information without your consent.

A common scenario: how a tout might approach you

Consider a typical situation. A family member is seriously injured in a road accident. You’re at the hospital in time to meet the ambulance.

While you’re waiting for attention from a medic, one of the ambulance paramedics strikes up a conversation. The paramedic mentions knowing a great law firm, in case you or your injured relative want to pursue a personal injury claim.

Later, you’re waiting in the emergency ward or a hospital waiting room.

A stranger starts to chat. When asked, you briefly outline what has happened.

The stranger suggests you can get a lot of money by claiming from the Road Accident Fund (RAF). By “coincidence”, he or she works for a leading law firm that can help.

It turns out this is the same firm that the paramedic mentioned.

The stranger rushes off to their car to fetch the papers you’ll need.

This person is a tout.

Why it’s best to give touts a wide berth

A law firm or independent practitioner who has to resort to unethical methods to secure clients is not the kind of party you want handling your personal injury claim.

In recent years, touts at hospitals have become so impertinent that former Transport Minister, Dipuo Peters, described them as “vultures” and “tsotsis” who prey on accident victims to rob them.

Kirstie Haslam of DSC Attorneys notes that it’s increasingly common for touts in hospitals to approach people who are confused, suffering and in pain.

She warns that “it’s not in your interests to use the services promoted by touts, whose behaviour is unethical and untrustworthy”.

How to avoid touts

If a stranger approaches you to offer legal services in a hospital or at an accident scene, it’s best to follow these guidelines:

  • firmly but politely state that you’re not interested and walk away
  • do not share medical information or any other particulars of the incident
  • even if you may have a valid personal injury claim, do not sign any documents
  • once you’ve parted ways, have a quiet word with security personnel, who may require the tout to leave the premises.

Don’t risk dealing with a disreputable individual or firm. If you do so, your claim could be compromised by less than competent legal services. You may even find yourself a victim to fraud.

Instead, wait until you have a clear head. Then contact a reputable firm of personal injury attorneys yourself. This is the best way to avoid scams.

Source Credit: adapted from the original article: https://www.golegal.co.za/touts-south-african-hospitals/

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