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Continuing its efforts to clamp down on the rampant prevalence of duplicate claims made in motor accident cases, the Madras High Court has summoned seven Advocates allegedly involved in the racket for a hearing scheduled in December.
As noted by the Court, over 300 bogus motor accident claim cases have been filed in Tamil Nadu, relating to five private insurance companies, the value of which worked out to be over Rs. 60 crores.
Justice PN Prakash had taken note of the issue earlier this year in a case concerning a motor accident which took place in February 2017. After three insurance claims were made on the same case by four lawyers, the insurance company Cholamandalam approached the High Court praying for a re-investigation into the case. This prompted the Court to order both the claimant (son of the deceased) and the four lawyers to appear before the Court to explain the situation.
The convoluted narrative presented before the Court ultimately led Justice Prakash to order the Tamil Nadu Crime Branch (CB-CID) to take over the investigation in the case.
The case further served to inform the court of an unofficial turf war between advocates when it comes to motor accident claims cases. In connection with this turf war, around 55 case bundles of a particular advocate had also gone missing, the Court was told.
“It was brought to the notice of this Court that the turf war amongst the practitioners in the MCOP field in the State had gone to such a miserable extent that 55 case bundles of an advocate by name Mr S Thambi, practising in the MCOP field, had gone missing from the MCOP Tribunals in the Small Causes Court, Chennai.“
In view of these issues, the Court had ordered the constitution of an Expert Body headed by Justice (Retd.) K Chandru to examine the case and suggest measures for reforming the field of motor accident claims.
Justice Chandru has since filed two interim reports, in which serious questions have been raised against seven named advocates. Whereas Justice Chandru had recommended that all seven advocates be suspended for their alleged conduct, the High Court on Thursday took a lenient view and has offered them a chance to offer their explanations at the next hearing.
However, the order passed also warns of dire consequences if no satisfactory explanation is forthcoming from the said advocates,
“Be it noted that, if the abovenamed advocates fail to give their explanation to the queries posed to them in the interim report dated 25.10.2018, this Court will have no other alternative but to pass appropriate orders on the premise that they have no plausible explanation to offer.“
The reports filed by Justice Chandru also appears to have prompted the en masse withdrawal of several motor accident claims cases, the Court noted.
“Interestingly, after coming to know of the enquiry that is being conducted by the learned Judge, around 72 MCOPs, totally valued at Rs.8,90,60,000/-, have been either withdrawn or dismissed as not pressed.“
The report goes on to disclose that there were at least 76 other duplicate motor accident claims made, which the Court proceeded to stay.
Before parting with the order, the Court also noted that several insurance companies had failed to conduct their own inquiries into the issue of duplicate claims. Despite repeated notices by the inquiry commission headed by Justice Chandru, these companies are yet to present their responses on the allegations raised. The Court took a serious view of this, remarking,
“Perhaps, they too have enough skeletons in their cupboard, which, they do not want the world to know. It should be borne in mind that they are the custodians of public wealth and they cannot be permitted to sweep the dirt under the carpet and sleep as if nothing is affecting them.“
The Court has, therefore, specifically ordered that the four public sector insurance companies involved i.e. United India Insurance Company Ltd., New India Assurance Company Ltd., Oriental Insurance Company Ltd. and National Insurance Company Ltd., conduct the requisite inquiries. The order also cautions that the companies would have to face the music if they fail to respond even after the Court’s latest order.
“In such perspective of the matter, this Court is of the view that interests of justice will be served if a copy of this order is sent to four public sector insurance companies for them to wake up at least now and conduct in-house enquiries to unearth duplicate claims and it is ordered accordingly.
It is made clear that if they still stand to continue to be a Rip Van Winkle, this Court may have to draw an inference that the officials of these public sector insurance companies are in league with the bogus claimants and appropriate criminal action will have to be initiated against those officials also.”
The case has been posted to be taken up next on December 13.