Wheelchair-bound student sues 'con-man' lawyer

Teenager Pattarada "Nong Beam" Kaewpong, allegedly cheated of almost 5 million baht by a lawyer, is taken to a meeting with legal experts of the Thai Bar on July 3. She and her mother on Thursday filed a lawsuit in the Civil Court demanding 3.4 million baht from the lawyer. (File photo)

A teenage girl disabled in a 2005 road accident filed a lawsuit on Thursday demanding 3.4 million baht from a lawyer who allegedly cheated her and her family out of compensation payments from the crash, which also claimed the life of her father.

Pornthip Chantharat, 44,  on Thursday took her wheelchair-bound daughter Pattarada “Nong Beam’’ Kaewpong, 14, to the Civil Court to file the suit against lawyer Pisit Sammalert and his wife Pornpawee Chukaew. 

Ms Pornthip and her daughter were accompanied by lawyer Watchathip Saengmanee of the Legal Aid office of the Thai Bar.

The lawsuit names Mr Pisit, 59, the first defendant and Ms Pornpawee, the second. They are accused of breach of contract as an authorised representative and breach of a debt repayment contract. The suit seeks due payment of 3.4 million baht to the plaintiff.

Ms Pornthip, who filed the suit on behalf of her wheelchair-bound daughter, requested the family be exempted from the court fee of 68,250 baht, citing the family’s poverty and her daughter’s injuries in the road accident. The family has an income of only 7,000 baht a month.

She decided to take the matter to court after the family’s plight was reported in the media and drew public sympathy.

Ms Pornthip alleges lawyer Pisit had cheated her family out of almost 5 million baht in compensation following the road accident in 2005 in which her husband died and her then 2-year-old daughter was left with crippling spinal injuries.

An 18-wheeler crashed into the Pattarada family's pickup in Surat Thani. Mr Pisit met the family and offered pro bono legal help.

According to Ms Pornthip, Mr Pisit told them the truck operator agreed to pay them 1 million baht in compensation.

However, monthly payments of 40,000 baht were paid to them for only seven months and then stopped. The lawyer could no longer be contacted.

A later talk with the truck operator further shocked Ms Pornthip, who learned the agreed compensation was actually 5 million baht in total.

she filed a complaint with Bang Yi Khan district police in Bangkok in 2015. In talks at the police station the lawyer had admitted he received 3 million baht and had promised to return the money.  

At the time, Mr Pisit had signed a letter acknowledging the debt, with the second defendant being the co-debtor, the plaintiff said in the suit. 

The lawyer agreed to repay the debt in monthly instalments of 100,000 baht starting on Aug 15, 2015.  He had failed to do so.

The plaintiff asked the court to order him and the second defendant to pay the debt of 3 million baht, plus interest of 412,000 baht.

The court accepted the suit and set Aug 28 for the first hearing.

The court agreed to consider the plaintiff’s request for exemption from the normal court fee. Lawyer Watchathip said he expected a decision later on Thursday. If the request was turned down, he would notify the Justice Ministry’s Rights and Liberties Protection Department, which would meet the 68,250 baht court fee.

The department, the Thai Bar and the Lawyers Council of Thailand have offered to provide legal assistance to the family.

The plaintiff’s lawyer said the amount of money demanded in the civil suit was based on the agreement signed between Ms Pornthip and Mr Pisit in 2015.

Records showed Mr Pisit had previously been declared bankrupt, but this had been lifted. Ms Pornpawee was named the co-defendant because she was Mr Pisit’s wife.

Ms Pornthip said an unidentified kindly person had recently arranged with Siriraj Hospital for treatment for her daughter's damaged nervous system, as she could not walk.

Pattarada, is now a Mathayom Suksa 2 (Grade 8) student in Nonthaburi.  She and her mother sell goods at Wat Cholprathan in Nonthaburi to make ends meet.

Ms Pornthip said she dreamed of seeing her daughter get a good education and walk again like others. The girl said she now felt greatly encouraged. She would pay more attention to her studies.

The Lawyers Council of Thailand has since resolved to revoke Mr Pisit's licence to practice law, deputy chairman Sombat Wongkamhaeng announced on Thursday.

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