In the city's legal fraternity, the unofficial title “ambulance chasers” is conferred upon a group of lawyers who only take up accident cases under the Indian Motor Vehicles Act.
Inhabited by policemen, doctors, professional impersonators and touts, the dark world of the ambulance chasers is sustained by greed, trickery, lies and bribery. Described as an “evil nexus” by president of the Mangalore Bar Association S.P. Chengappa, a view acknowledged by Superintendent of Police A.S. Rao, this business is all about exploiting the misery of an accident victim for material gain. Veteran criminal lawyer Asha Nayak, human rights lawyer Dinesh Hegde Ulepady and Mr. Chengappa helped The Hindu piece together the working pattern of this business.
Ambulance drivers, often the first ones to arrive at an accident spot, call these lawyers even before informing the police. If the police reach the spot, they too call these lawyers before calling an ambulance. The lawyer immediately enlists the traumatised victim as a client with the promise of on-the-spot compensation.
In case the victim refuses the lawyer's services, policemen or doctors in the network ensure that they do.
Some policemen insist that the victim hire a particular lawyer.
“Since the police have substantial power over necessary claims documents such as Inspection of Motor Vehicle Report, First Information Report and the spot mahajar, the victim usually gives in,” says Ms. Nayak.
Doctors/hospital authorities coerce patients into choosing a particular lawyer by refusing to cooperate in dressing the wound or issuing disability certificate.
Another way for doctors to arm-twist patients is by raking up huge medical bills.
When the patient is cornered and is not in a position to pay up, they are forced to go to the lawyer referred by the doctor, she says.
Once the case is firmly in the grip of the lawyer, he makes all the necessary payouts to the police, ambulance drivers and doctors involved. According to Mr. Ulepady, the patient too is paid a nominal sum that takes care of medical bills, on the condition that no further claims are made.
“The lawyer then takes the insurance claim to court and pockets the entire compensation, which usually takes a few years,” he says.
It is at the time of the award of compensation that impersonators and bankers come in. Since the compensation cheques are given directly to the victim, somebody impersonates the victim or a kin and signs the receipt. The banker, who is also paid a share, discounts the cheque the very same day.
“The lawyer ends up making a neat profit of around 60 to 70 per cent of the claim after paying off all the parties concerned,” says Mr. Chengappa. In cases where the offending vehicle is not insured, the police find volunteers with insured vehicles willing to be booked in the case for a small “fee”. The same modus operandi is followed in hit-and-run cases, where a vehicle with insurance cannot be found to fix the claims. According to Mr. Ulepady, unclaimed bodies also come in handy. Once an accident case is fixed, the deceased is given fake identity, fale relatives are propped up as insurance claimants and a vehicle with a valid insurance is brought into the case.