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Trinidad: Acid bath victim gets $1m award

By Derek Achong

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Raffick Mohammed with his lawyer Shabaana Mohammed outside the Hall of Justice.

(TRINIDAD GUARDIAN) — A 61-year-old man, who was left per­ma­nent­ly scarred af­ter doused with acid by his sis­ter-in-law, has fi­nal­ly re­ceived com­pen­sa­tion af­ter an al­most two-decade-long le­gal bat­tle.

On Jan­u­ary 31, High Court Mas­ter Martha Alexan­der or­dered more than $1 mil­lion com­pen­sa­tion for Raf­fick Mo­hammed, of Walk­er Street, Ca­roni, at the end of his pro­tract­ed pri­vate as­sault and bat­tery claim against Myra Bhag­wans­ingh.

In a tele­phone in­ter­view on Thurs­day, Mo­hammed said he was pleased with the out­come.

“Mon­ey can’t com­pen­sate for this but I can help a lit­tle,” he said.

How­ev­er, he stat­ed that he was dis­ap­point­ed by the slow pace of the jus­tice sys­tem.

“Jus­tice is like that in Trinidad. Imag­ine when this hap­pened, my son was one-year-old, now he has a one-year-old son him­self,” Mo­hammed said.

In as­sess­ing the com­pen­sa­tion, Alexan­der analysed the ex­ten­sive in­juries he sus­tained in 1991 and the dozen pro­ce­dures and op­er­a­tions he had to un­der­go to help re­pair the dam­age.

Alexan­der not­ed that Mo­hammed suf­fered acid burns to 16 per cent of his body in the at­tack. His face was left dis­fig­ured. Skin had to be har­vest­ed from his groin and thighs for skin grafts.

In ad­di­tion to the phys­i­cal in­juries, Mo­hammed al­so claimed to have suf­fered de­pres­sion.

“I be­came very de­pressed and frus­trat­ed with way I looked. I could not even look at my­self in the mir­ror for years af­ter the in­ci­dent. Some­times I felt like giv­ing up and com­mit­ting sui­cide,” he said in his wit­ness state­ment.

“I am al­ways wary of peo­ple look­ing at my scars and I would of­ten wear long sleeve shirts or turn my face in a way to make the case look less ap­par­ent,” he added.

Alexan­der ruled that he was en­ti­tled to CA$10,092.95 and TT$531,539.75 in spe­cial dam­ages to cov­er the costs of med­ical ex­pens­es since the in­ci­dent.

She al­so ruled Mo­hammed was en­ti­tled to $385,000 in gen­er­al and ag­gra­vat­ed dam­ages for the pain and suf­fer­ing he en­dured.

“His in­juries erod­ed his self-con­fi­dence, self-es­teem and con­fined him to his home, caus­ing him to feel as if he were in­side a jail cell,” Alexan­der said as she not­ed that he was forced to wear a pro­tec­tive mask for three years while re­cov­er­ing from surg­eries.

She al­so or­dered that he be paid $60,000 in dam­ages for be­ing hand­i­capped on the job mar­ket by the in­juries.

The to­tal com­pen­sa­tion is ex­pect­ed to be well over $ 1 mil­lion, as Alexan­der or­dered Bhag­wans­ingh to al­so pay 2.5 per cent in­ter­est on the gen­er­al dam­ages and 1.5 per cent in­ter­est on the spe­cial dam­ages from the date of the in­ci­dent.

About the case

Ac­cord­ing to the ev­i­dence, the law­suit stemmed from an in­ci­dent at Bhag­wans­ingh’s fab­ric store in Ch­agua­nas on Au­gust 29, 1991.

Bhag­wans­ingh, whose broth­er was mar­ried to Mo­hammed’s sis­ter, re­port­ed­ly in­vit­ed him in­side the store for a con­ver­sa­tion.

Mo­hammed claimed that Bhag­wans­ingh ac­cused him of re­port­ing her broth­er to of­fi­cials of the Cus­toms and Ex­cise Di­vi­sion be­fore she drew a glass jar from un­der the cash reg­is­ter and threw the con­tents un­to his face and neck.

“I felt the liq­uid pen­e­trat­ing through my skin and I im­me­di­ate­ly be­gan to feel sting­ing and burn­ing pains about my body,” Mo­hammed said in his wit­ness state­ment.

Mo­hammed at­tempt­ed to flee but Bhag­wans­ingh chased af­ter him and threw an­oth­er con­tain­er of the liq­uid on his back.

In Feb­ru­ary 1996, Bhag­wans­ingh was con­vict­ed of caus­ing griev­ous bod­i­ly harm to Mo­hammed and was sen­tenced to 12 years in prison and 10 strokes with the cat-o-nine tails.

She even­tu­al­ly won her ap­peal and faced a re­tri­al. She was again con­vict­ed and sen­tenced to 12 years in prison.

Mo­hammed filed his com­pen­sa­tion claim against Bhag­wans­ingh in 1995, but pro­ce­dur­al de­lays meant that it was on­ly de­ter­mined in his favour in 2015.

Mo­hammed was rep­re­sent­ed by Ab­del and Shabaana Mo­hammed, while Javier For­rester and Stacey Wait­he rep­re­sent­ed Bhag­wans­ingh.

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