In 2001, Rekha Jain, then a young actress, had an exceptionally booming career. She had a bagful of offers in films and television serials besides modelling assignments from some of the biggest FMCG and beverages brands.
However, fate had something tragic in store for her. On August 17, 2001 Rekha’s car was hit by a truck that was trying to save a cyclist. This left her disfigured and partly disabled, ending the 24-year-old’s promising showbiz career. It was certain that nobody would offer her work anymore. Her mother, who was a doctor by profession, died on the spot in the accident. Now, 12 years down the line and many a legal battle later, there is a ray of hope that she can cling on to.
The Supreme Court has awarded her a whopping compensation of Rs 79 lakh payable along with six per cent interest calculated for 11 years, which would take the overall amount past the Rs 1-crore mark. In addition, the court ordered a further compensation of over Rs 10 lakh along with six per cent interest as her mother died in the accident.
Calculating her future earnings to Rs 42.5 lakh, the court added to this amount Rs 10 lakh on account of loss of pleasure of life, Rs 9 lakh for mental and physical pain and suffering, Rs 17.15 lakh towards medical expenses — altogether arriving at a figure of Rs 79.66 lakh sans the interest. This had been the highest amount Rekha received ever since she began fighting the battle against the truck owner and insurer.
The Motor Accidents Tribunal had awarded her Rs 23.5 lakh that was brought down by the Odisha High Court to Rs 14 lakh. Rs 79 l indemnity for actress
The apex court held the High Court’s calculation as unreasonable, considering that the accident involved an actress whose functional disability severely altered her future career.
More than the quantum of compensation decided by the apex court, the SC judgement provides hope to victims of motor accidents who suffer mental and physical injuries. Although courts go by the physical disability of an accident victim to award compensation, this decision laid down that if the nature of injury was such that a person’s “functional disability” was 100 per cent, then a higher compensation would apply to the case. Being an actress, Rekha’s disability became her bane. Besides a disfigured face, she put on more weight and developed disability in her legs.
“For a film actress, the physical appearance particularly the facial features are very important to act in films and TV serials,” noted the bench of Justices GS Singhvi and V Gopala Gowda. Even though the claimant (Rekha) did not suffer 100 per cent physical permanent disability, the court held that she suffered from 100 per cent functional disability.
Prior to the fateful day, Rekha had, within a short span of three years, under her cap a distinguished record, which included playing the lead actress in several Odiya and Malayalam films. She was a regular face in Odiya TV serials and had stepped into the mainstream by signing a Hindi serial. She was the face of FMCG and beverages majors. All this went hand in hand with her PG studies in commerce from GM University, Sambalpur.
Recognition followed as she bagged awards for ‘best newcomer’ and ‘best actress’. Her soaring career impressed even the judges who noted, “She would have definitely had a very good chance of acting in future if she had not suffered the grievous injuries, facial disfigurement and other injuries on account of the accident.”
The reality that her career as an actress had ended was unambiguous as the judges noted with certainty, “She is not fit to act and no film producer will offer her roles in their films to act as an actress.”