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Miners turn to king of compensation lawyers in fight for $1m payoffs

A financial lawyer renowned for taking on the authorities has announced plans to fight for compensation for the majority of the 33 Chilean miners rescued last week.

Edgardo Reinoso, who is well-known for suing organisations, ranging from prisons to gas companies, told Germany's Der Spiegel magazine website that he had formally agreed to represent 26 of the 33 men. He said he was aiming to win damages from the Chilean government and the San Esteban mining company that runs the northern San Jose mine from which the miners were rescued after spending 69 days trapped underground.

"These people must be compensated for their suffering," Mr Reinoso said. "They are grateful that the government rescued them, but it's also a fact that as taxpayers and miners, they have the right to be protected by the government."

The amount being requested by the miners and their families is reported to be around $1m (£635,000) per miner. Mr Reinoso has, however, refused to be drawn on the exact amount of compensation that will be fought for. "I am going to let things settle down a bit at first," he told the magazine.

Shortly after the accident at the San Jose mine on 5 August, Mr Reinoso was called by the authorities from the nearby coastal town of Caldera, where many of the miners and their families live. Brunilda Gonzalez, Caldera's mayor, told him she was looking for a lawyer to represent the miners. She said she had approached him because of his reputation in Chile. Although he has spent much of his career as a lawyer representing shipping companies, Mr Reinoso has gained wide publicity for suing public organisations.

He has taken prisons, shipyards, hospitals and gas companies to court to seek compensation for victims. In one case, the lawyer tried to have the mayor of Valparaiso – Mr Reinoso's home town – arrested after he refused to pay up on a compensation award.

Mr Reinoso flew to Caldera the day after his phone call with its mayor. He met the miners' families and told them that they would have to come to terms with the suffering they had endured at the hands of the mining company and the state-run mine-safety authorities.

"I can't take away your pain," he is reported to have told the families. He said the best he could do would be to win a small amount of compensation for them.

He argues that the miners still have a right to compensation despite the efforts of both the Chilean government and the mining companies in mounting a spectacularly successful rescue operation. "The miners acknowledge this achievement without reservation, but no one should have to risk his life in a mine," he insisted.

"The evidence in clear and public pressure will take care of the rest. I expect the proceedings to be short," said Mr Reinoso, who could earn up to 30 per cent of the total amount awarded in compensation if he wins.

Referring to the Chilean President, Sebastian Pinera, who placed himself at the forefront of the rescue effort, he added: "Our President is a businessman. I suspect that he'll look at the situation and realise that a quick solution is the best for everyone involved."