The High Court yesterday ordered paying Tk 4.61 crore in compensation to the family of eminent filmmaker Tareque Masud for his death in a road accident six years ago.
It is a landmark verdict in the sense that this is the first compensation trial held directly in the HC, instead of a lower court, in the country.
The HC bench of Justice Zinat Ara and Justice Kazi Md Ejarul Haque Akondo pronounced the verdict in the case filed under Motor Vehicles Ordinance, 1983.
In the lawsuit, the family of Tareque, renowned globally for his films such as Muktir Gaan and Matir Moyna, sought Tk 9.94 crore in compensation.
In her reaction, Catherine Masud, the filmmaker's widow and one of the plaintiffs, said the verdict was a consolation for her although she would never get her husband back.
“I got consolation for my seven-year-old son, for his [Tareque's] mother and for thousands of people who are losing their near and dear ones in road accidents.
"It has been legally recognised that accidents are not merely an accident. The drivers, bus companies and even the insurance companies have the responsibility behind such accidents. We have sought redress under the law. I hope that many others will get compensation in the same way,” she added.
Of the compensation, bus driver Jamir Hossain must pay Tk 30 lakh, its insurer Reliance Insurance Tk 80,000 and the three bus owners Tk 4.30 crore within three months after receiving the full HC judgment.
It is not clear what will happen if they fail to pay.
Four others, including ATN News CEO and former journalism teacher at Dhaka University Mishuk Munier, were killed in the same accident in Manikganj on August 13, 2011.
The rest are Mostafizur Rahman, driver of the microbus they were in, and production crew members Wasim and Jalal.
Catherine and three others were injured in the crash when the bus hit their microbus.
In February this year, a Manikganj court sentenced the bus driver to life for in the case.
Bangladesh is among the countries where road fatalities are high.
According to Bangladesh Passengers' Welfare Association, 6,055 people died and 1,600 were injured last year in road accidents. The figures were 8,642 and 21,855 respectively the previous year.
The World Health Organisation says the numbers are much higher.
Some 90 percent of the road fatalities occur in the low and middle-income countries and road crashes, which are preventable, are a leading cause of death for people aged 15-29, according to its 2015 global report on road fatalities.
Deaths of so many economically active people place a huge burden on the victims' families and a country loses an estimated 1.6 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) due to road crashes, said the report.
In the verdict, the HC observed that the incomes of road accident victims may be different but their affection and love are equal, and so the compensation should be same for all victims, Sara Hossain, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, told The Daily Star.
Under the Motor Vehicle Ordinance, 1983, there should be a tribunal in every district to deal with compensation cases. But not every district has this tribunal. In some districts, tribunals were formed but they are inoperative, she said.
Also, the law does not mention the standard amount for compensation, which is why families of road accident victims cannot claim compensation, she noted.
However, after the verdict, victims can now claim compensation, she added.
For Tareque Masud's family, a five-year legal battle for compensation ended with yesterday's verdict.
On February 13, 2012, the families of Tareque and Mishuk filed two cases with district judge and Motor Accident Claim Tribunal in Manikganj, seeking compensation from co-owners of the bus -- Kashed Miah, Khokon Miah and Jahnagir Kabir -- its driver and the insurance company.
Following two separate writ petitions, the High Court on October 29, 2014, ruled that the HC, instead of the lower courts, will hold both the trials.
The same HC bench is scheduled to hear on February 4 next year the Tk 5.5 crore compensation suit by Mishuk's family.
In a statement, Bangladesh Passengers' Welfare Association lauded the verdict.
It termed the judgment “a milestone in the country's history” and demanded that the government include in the law provisions for capital punishment for drivers and set up a road accident fund.