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Man sues town council after becoming paralysed by fall

Aw Kian Chow was walking home one rainy evening when he slipped and fell at a sheltered walkway. Now he is paralysed and is suing the Town Council for not ensuring the safety of its residents. -TNP
Chai Hung Yin

Thu, Jan 31, 2013
The New Paper

Mr Aw Kian Chow, 55, turned up at High Court on a stretcher with machines he is hooked up to.

SINGAPORE - He lay immobile on a stretcher, hooked up to machines as he spoke with difficulty into a microphone.

The scene could have been in an intensive care unit in a hospital, except that it was in a courtroom at the High Court.

It was an unusual sight when Mr Aw Kian Chow, 55, appeared as a witness on Monday for a lawsuit against the Sembawang Town Council for negligence and breach of duty.

Mr Aw, a former freelance accountant, had slipped and fallen at a sheltered walkway at Sembawang Drive near his home on Aug26, 2008, while it was raining.

He fractured his spine and became paralysed from the neck down and he maintains the town council had failed to ensure that the surface of the sheltered walkway was non-slippery.

At the start of the five-day hearing on Monday, Mr Aw was wheeled into the courtroom on a stretcher, accompanied by his wife, Madam Angeline Zeng Gui Zhi, 43, a bank officer, and two caregivers who each carried portable medical equipment.

A medic and a driver of a private ambulance helped to carry oxygen tanks.

They set up the medical equipment on one side of the courtroom, placing the machines on a table reserved for the media.

A tube ran from Mr Aw's neck and was connected to one of the smaller oxygen tanks and other tubes were connected to equipment like an air flow and trachea machine and a blood pressure monitor.

Five minutes into the proceedings which started at about 10.30am, Justice Choo Han Teck stood down the court for a technician to fix a microphone near Mr Aw.

Mr Aw's lawyer, Mr N. Srinivasan from Hoh Law Corporation, said he didn't expect there would be "so many machines".

When the hearing resumed at about 11am, Mr Aw took the oath albeit speaking with difficulty into the microphone.

Defence counsel P. E. Ashokan then cross-examined him.

At times, Mr Aw strained his voice and had to stop before continuing. When Mr Ashokan referred to some documents, Madam Zeng held them up for her husband to look at.

She also attended to the machines when they beeped. Once, Mr Aw asked his wife, who was removing phlegm with a suction device, to stop as he couldn't hear the question put to him.

Pictures

Mr Ashokan wanted to confirm the exact spot where Mr Aw slipped and fell.

He was shown two pictures.

After Mr Aw said one of the locations was the more likely spot, Mr Ashokan said the spot coincided with the area that had the lowest reading of the slip test that was done.

Both sides had done separate slip resistance tests.

Mr Aw said "no" when he was asked if anyone had told him to change to this location after the tests were done.

He also answered "no" when asked if he had been wet before entering the sheltered walkway, and he added that a friend he was having coffee with had driven and dropped him at the block near the walkway.

He had been wearing Crocs sandals and "water was practically overflowing everywhere along the path" because of a "heavy downpour", he said.

He said he had held on to the side railing as he stepped into the water and had been walking very slowly, "slower than my normal pace of walking, of course, not as slow as an old man walking".

On his fall, he said: "I know I was still holding on to the railing, but I believe that I was just about to let go and then I just slipped. The rest was a blur to me."

Mr Aw said the water had been flowing from the roof and the drain, and this happens there every time there is a downpour.

But Mr Ashokan suggested that there was no overflow because there is drainage there and thus only the sides of the walkway were wet, which Mr Aw disagreed with.

Mr Aw said that the water overflow could be verified easily by asking residents there or by watching what happens there during a heavy downpour.

He said he had lived in Block 415, Sembawang Drive, for eight years and was familiar with the sheltered walkway as he had used it "more than several times".

Even so, he had almost slipped and fallen there on several occasions and had seen other residents, mostly children, almost slipping on the floor.

When Mr Aw's counsel re-examined him, he clarified that water overflowing meant "water was flowing on the surface as if it was a drain".

The trial continued on Tuesday, with three witnesses for the plaintiff's side taking the stand. Among them was Madam Zeng and a resident who had assisted Mr Aw when he called out for help after he fell.

Mr Aw has two daughters, aged 12 and 15, with Madam Zeng, who is his second wife. He has two children from his first marriage.

ABOUT THE CASE

Mr Aw Kian Chow, 55, is suing the Sembawang Town Council over an accident on Aug 26, 2008. At about 5.40pm, while using a sheltered walkway between Block 419, Block 415A and Block 415 at Sembawang Drive, Mr Aw slipped and fell.

He is now paralysed from the neck down.

The 20m-long sheltered walkway is a sloping ramp descending 1.5m to 2m from Block 419 to Block 415A. Mr Aw claims the walkway and handrails were wet as there had been a downpour.

His lawyer is arguing that the town council had failed in its duty to ensure that the walkway was safe for residents to use.

In his statement of claim, Mr Aw's lawyer said he requires two caregivers to look after him for the rest of his life, requires full artificial life support and will be bedridden.

The town council disputes his claims and denies there was any breach in duty on its part.

It argues that it had engaged a contractor to carry out repair and redecoration works, and that the contractor had used proper materials which comply with industry standards to ensure the surface of the sheltered walkway is safe.

It also argues that if Mr Aw proves that he indeed slipped and fell on the sheltered walkway, the unfortunate incident had occurred because he "was not careful when he was walking along the sheltered walkway on a rainy day".

chaihyn@sph.com.sg


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