| A railway officer goes through compensation applications
Mumbai, Aug. 2: Guess what the latest legacy of the Mumbai blasts is' No, not the hundreds of innocents whose worlds have turned upside down, but a breed of pros called the “ambulance chasers”.
These are lawyers who have been turning up uninvited at the doorsteps of people who have been wounded or have lost a loved one in the blasts. And offering to help them get compensation from the railways in exchange for a percentage of it.
“I don’t know how they found us out!” exclaimed Dilip Rangle whose friend Subhash Sawant died in the blasts.
“I was very surprised when a lawyer approached us. He initially asked for a 20 per cent cut, but after much bargaining brought it down to 10 per cent.”
Rangle said that given the nature of the tragedy lawyers should help free of cost, but if they wanted a fee, it should be minimal.
“Anyway, I think these people are taking money for their knowledge of law… something an innocent victim will not understand.”
If that is how Rangle put his mind at rest despite being milked by the lawyers, Hitesh Rohit Kaveria, who was injured in the blasts, said it was the entire system of disbursing damages that was to blame.
“Most people think that since this is government-initiated, it will take a lot of time and effort. Many might not be in the state of mind to make frequent visits with their documents, so they hire these lawyers,” Kaveria said.
A police constable who had come to take a statement from Kaveria tipped him off about the lawyers. “I don’t know what to say. I feel the cut the lawyer is asking for is too much, but there’s nothing common people can do. We are helpless.”
The term “ambulance chasers” comes from the US, where it refers to lawyers or lawyers’ agents who solicit accident victims to sue for damages.
In the context of the blasts, they would refer to lawyers who hunt out wounded people requiring an ambulance and seek to profit from their injuries. The practice is to claim damages on behalf of the injured for a contingency fee.
Although most of the blasts’ victims The Telegraph spoke to claimed the lawyers had approached them, high court advocate Deepak Sandvilakar insisted otherwise.
“I have been approached by 20-25 people for help to claim compensation from the railway claims tribunal. The process is quite difficult for ordinary people with no knowledge of law.”
Sandvilakar said lawyers who specialise in personal injury and claims cases, like himself, would be able to prepare a water-tight petition for clients. Else, they might be caught unawares by the tribunal when the railway presents its defence.
“Blasts don’t happen everyday. We also work to get others compensation. Many might not know they can get damages if they fall off a train. We trace these people and help them get their due under the railways’ passenger insurance scheme,” he said.
The railway claims tribunal will pay a maximum of Rs 4 lakh to the families of the dead. Earlier, rail officials had said the whole process would take about a year.
Sandvilakar, however, refused to divulge how lawyers tracked down victims. “It is a professional secret I cannot reveal.
“All I can say is we get their names from websites and newspapers. We look for people and file cases on their behalf, taking a 10-15 per cent cut from their compensation. The amount obviously depends on the kind of injury they have sustained.”
No other lawyer was willing to comment, even on condition of anonymity.
Sources, however, said the lawyers had agents in hospitals and police stations. Some even had assistants roaming the streets in search of victims.
Kirit Somaiya, a former MP involved with the claims tribunal, appealed to people to shun such lawyers.
“I can only appeal to the families of victims not to waste society’s money. It is for their family. We have 11 advocates on the tribunal who will give legal advice if required.
“Further, we have free legal cells and special branches for blast victims. The tribunal chairman has assured me that all cases will be over in 3-4 months, except ones that have family dispute involved.”