Engineer left bedridden by worksite accident can sue for damages

Engineer left bedridden by worksite accident can sue for damages
The Supreme Court of Singapore.

A workman who went into a coma following an electrical explosion will get to sue in court after a judge held that the compensation offered by the Commissioner for Labour, which would have ruled out the court suit, was invalid.

A worker who is mentally incapacitated by injury has to make a claim through a representative under the Mental Capacity Act. Justice Quentin Loh found that there was no valid nomination under the Act to represent Mr Tan Yun Yeow, when $225,000 was offered to him in June 2010.

This means the case can be heard in the High Court, where he is seeking about $3 million in damages for the 2009 accident that left him comatose for slightly over a year. He is now bedridden and has brain damage.

The case is significant as it clarifies that the next of kin or any other person has to be authorised by the court to make a claim under the Act for an injured party unable to manage his own affairs.

Lawyers said the court's sanction is vital in such cases to protect the disadvantaged, such as injured foreign workers.

Mr Tan's current medical bills are understood to have breached $600,000, well over the $225,000 he was offered under the Work Injury Compensation Act. "The plight of the injured employee brings into stark relief the consequences of a wrong choice," said Justice Loh, noting that his common law claim was "far in excess of the Commissioner's award."

Unlike the Act, where compensation is assessed according to the nature of the injury on a no-fault basis, a party who opts to sue in court for the same injuries has to prove liability against the parties involved before any damages payable are assessed by the court.

Mr Tan, an engineer aged 30 at the time of the accident, suffered severe burns when the explosion occurred while he was logging data at a worksite in Changi. He fell into a coma and was certified incapable of managing his financial and personal affairs.

Justice Loh found that either Mr Tan's wife, Ms Davy Lim, or his elder brother Rodney, made the claim on his behalf under the Act in May 2010. Based on this, the Commissioner assessed that Mr Tan was eligible for $225,000.

But both the move to act on Mr Tan's behalf and the compensation offered were invalid, as it was only two years later that his brother was authorised by the court under the Mental Capacity Act to represent him to seek the claims.

Mr Tan, through lawyers Noor Marican and Ramasamy Chettiar, sought to reject the compensation and seek damages in the High Court suit instead.

But the insurer for Mr Tan's employer objected, and argued through lawyer K. Anparasan that the Commissioner had the discretion to accept a claim by the next of kin, thus making the 2010 assessment binding.

Justice Loh disagreed, ruling that the injured man lacked the capacity to make a choice and only a person appointed by the court had the right to act on his behalf.

He quashed the 2010 notice of assessment by the Commissioner, stressing that the courts will jealously guard "the rights of injured workers who lack the mental capacity and competence to make choices that are in their best interests".

vijayan@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on April 7, 2015.
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