Media Release

Litigation Assistance Fund reaches $200 million milestone

01 June 2018

The Law Society’s legal assistance charity has helped deliver $200 million in compensation to victims.

The milestone was reached after lawyers successfully negotiated a settlement for a man who suffered a devastating brain injury in a motor vehicle accident.

The Litigation Assistance Fund (LAF) was established in 1992 to help recover damages for people who otherwise could not afford to pursue their claim.

The LAF is a non-profit service that pays for lawyers to represent people with meritorious claims. The types of claims the LAF funds include medical negligence claims, sexual assault claims, motor vehicle accident injury claims, estate disputes, public liability claims, false imprisonment claims and many other civil disputes.

“Without this fund, many people who have suffered physical, emotional or financial trauma would have had no way to receive the compensation they deserve,” Law Society President Tim Mellor said.

The successful operation of the fund relies on South Australian lawyers working on a pro bono basis to assess the merits of each claim and the means of the client to determine whether the case can be funded.

The fund has a self-financing model, in that when a supported case is successful, the fund recoups its expenditure from the damages and costs awards achieved, and also receives an “uplift” amount. This revenue is used solely for the ongoing operation of the fund. The LAF receives no government monies or donations.

Also, when a supported case is not successful, LAF does not seek any reimbursement. This can empower solicitors and clients to investigate and prosecute meritorious legal action without the threat of crippling debt if the case does not succeed.

To satisfy the means test, an applicant can have a family income of up to $150,000 and assets of “reasonable” value, including a house and a car.

“Sadly, legal representation for civil matters is out of reach for many Australians, even many middle-income earners,” Mr Mellor said.

“Unlike the health system which has Medicare, only 8% of Australians would be eligible for legal aid, and that only covers some criminal and family law matters. Services such as the Litigation Assistance Fund, community legal centres and JusticeNet try to fill the gap.”

Some of the claimants assisted by LAF include:

  • a child who developed cerebral palsy as a result of complications during birth, requiring life-long 24-hour care;
  • a man who was sexually abused as a child by members of a religious institution;
  • a victim of excessive use of force by police; and
  • a sufferer of a psychiatric condition brought about by relentless school bullying.