News @ AsiaOne

$1.6 million won't matter, says family

Cyclist is now fully paralysed, blind, speech-impaired, and unable to control his bladder. -TNP
Esther Ng

Sun, Jun 10, 2012
The New Paper

SINGAPORE - It was a fine Sunday morning two days after Christmas in 2009 and cycling enthusiast Michael Loke was riding alone along the three-lane Keppel Road.

He didn't know it then, but it was a moment that was going to change his life - and that of his family's - forever.

Mr Loke was hit by a lorry.

Despite wearing a helmet, the accident caused severe brain injury and left him paralysed from the neck down.

Mr Loke also suffered multiple fractures and is completely blind from corneal scarring.

He is now bedridden, unable to stand, sit or walk, speech-impaired and has no voluntary control of his bladder, among other problems.

At the time of the accident, Mr Loke, then 52, was in the prime of his life.

A project director with construction and civil engineering firm Shimizu Corporation, the father of four was earning a monthly salary of $12,200 - enough to support his wife and family in an HUDC apartment in the east.

"Our lives have never been the same (since the accident)," said Mr Loke's wife. Madam Jannette Hoy.

"He can't swallow food - we have to puree it. He can't even drink water - we have to thicken it with gum so that he doesn't choke. His throat muscles don't work anymore."

A civil suit was launched, but midway through the trial, in February this year, the lorry driver's insurer agreed to pay Mr Loke around $1.6 million on 100 per cent liability.

Mr Loke's lawyer, Mr Cosmas Gomez, had put in a claim of about $3.5 million for future out-of-pocket expenses, excluding pre-trial expenses, which had totalled $183,113.

The bulk of it - about $1.9 million - was for the loss of future income.

This was based on the fact that Mr Loke had about 13 years of employment before he reached the retirement age of 65, and his monthly income of $12,200.

Court papers The New Paper obtained said: "If the accident had not occurred, the plaintiff's income would have increased in his continual employment with his company, and in the next five years, he would have achieved much more (than) the present amount he is getting in view of his attitude and abilities.

"Moreover, he was well-liked by his superiors and was highly looked upon by them for a job well done, always."

Other expenses included physiotherapy over 12 years ($129,600) and daily necessities totalling $216,000, for items such as adult diapers and wet wipes for the rest of his life.

'Unusual payout'

TNP spoke to lawyer Alfred Lim, who told us that the seven-figure payout is "quite unusual" and that "most insurers would not agree to 100 per cent liability".

However, the insurer could have agreed on a settlement as insurers typically "do not want to go for a full hearing" as it involves calling witnesses and "legal fees could go up", Mr Lim said.

But another lawyer, Mr Ajinderpal Singh, told this newspaper that the 100 per cent liability is "not rare".

"It depends on who is at fault and if there were reduced mitigating factors," he said.

Insurers, too, said the 100 per cent liability and the amount paid out were not unusual.

"A Bangladeshi worker was paid $1 million for a work injury claim, so $1.6 million may not be unreasonable," said an industry source, who declined to be named.

"Insurance companies are smart enough to know if the amount is too high or low," he added.

Past president of Insurance and Financial Practitioners Association of Singapore Francis Shin agreed the sum paid out and 100 per cent liability was "not rare".

In unveiling its underwriting results in April, the General Insurance Association of Singapore (GIA) noted that personal injury accidents have been on the rise since 2008.

The number of personal injury accidents went up by 18 per cent between 2008 and 2011, with total claim amounts also rising.

GIA president Derek Teo told The Business Times recently that one area where claims have increased involves cyclists.

"In one of the cases involving a cyclist who was paralysed as a result of a road accident, the amount to be awarded is likely to be substantial, in the seven figures on 100 per cent liability," said Mr Teo.

A 100 per cent liability or not, for Madam Hoy, it is scant consolation.

"No amount of money can bring his health back, and happiness of our family.

"He was a humorous and generous man, and a great father. He provided for the family very well," she said.

Madam Hoy told TNP that her husband was a water polo player in the 70s and that if he wasn't cycling, he would be at the gym, swimming pool or golf course.

"He was doing very well in his career and was respected by the many people he had worked with.

"The number of people who visited him in hospital was overwhelming. Till today, his Japanese bosses continue to visit him ," she said.

Last July, lorry driver Muhammad Nurhakim Omar had pleaded guilty in a criminal court to inconsiderate driving. He admitted that he had collided into Mr Loke from behind.

He was fined $1,000 and banned from driving for eight months.

The civil suit started in January this year. Mr Muhammad Nurhakim, who was 21 at the time of the accident, was said to have failed to keep a proper lookout, driving at an excessive speed and too close to Mr Loke.

Midway through the trial, the lorry driver's insurance company conceded liability.

Said Madam Hoy: "It saddens me that we've not received a word of apology from the driver."

1.5 metres matters, say cyclists

Lawyer Mark Goh, 45, has been cycling to work for the past 10 years, and he's had his fair share of close shaves.

But what worries him is that recent fatalities have occurred not on busy roads, but on quieter and wider thoroughfare.

"The cyclist who died on Changi Coast Road - this was in broad daylight at 10.30am - and it's a spacious road.

"Last week, a van knocked two cyclists, killing one, on Senoko South Road - a two-by-two-lane industrial road.

"I would like to see speed traps and cameras installed at these quieter roads and big signs warning road users of these speed cameras. Also, isolated spots should be brightly lit," he said.

But a more permanent solution would be an awareness campaign that gets motorists to recognise cyclists are road users too, he said.

"Unlike in Europe, drivers here don't slow down when they see you; they don't respect you.

"The doctor who knocked and killed cyclist Benjamin Mok got four weeks' jail. I think legislation needs to be changed to provide for longer-term imprisonment," Mr Goh said.

Raise awareness

Marketing manager Michelle Teo, 36, felt an awareness campaign, like the OCBC Cycle Singapore's safe cycling campaign launched in 2010 to get drivers to give cyclists a 1.5m berth when overtaking, would be more effective than legislation.

"I'm not in favour of bicycle lanes because some of our roads are narrow, and I don't want to be confined to park connectors, so a better way would be to change the mindset of drivers," she said.

Even so, some cyclists question the effectiveness of the campaign.

"It needs government enforcement to work. And an intermittent green line would help guide drivers to keep away from cyclists," said production manager Mohamed Amat, 49, who cycles to work from Bishan to Jurong Island.

"They can enter the space when there are no cyclists," he added.

According to statistics from the Traffic Police, the top cause of road accidents in Singapore which resulted in death or injuries, is inattentiveness.

Between 2007 and last year, "failing to keep a proper lookout" consistently accounted for about one-third of all causes.

This was followed by "failing to have proper control" of a vehicle (18.5 per cent) and "failing to give way to traffic with right of way" (13.2 per cent).

This article was first published in The New Paper.

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