AXA Insurance's suit against 'abusive' client dismissed

Justice Choo Han Teck.

SINGAPORE - The High Court dismissed a rare harassment suit by an insurance company against an allegedly abusive policy holder, saying it was up to Parliament to decide if such action was enforceable.

AXA Insurance Singapore had sought a court order to stop Mr Chandran Natesan from sending persistent messages which sometimes included vulgar language.

The man was annoyed about the alleged delay in processing his insurance claim after his motorcycle was damaged in an accident.

But Justice Choo Han Teck said in his grounds of judgment released on Thursday that he was not convinced the harassment action could succeed in law, and that the court had to tread carefully in expanding tortious acts beyond trespass and cases where there is clear proof of injury, to prevent a flood of people suing one another.

He wrote: "...By allowing litigants to sue when they feel harassed when there is no direct contact nor proof of damage, the court may be creating a blockbuster tort which will have unpredictable consequences, some of which may not be desirable."

AXA's grouse was triggered after Mr Chandran sent 19 e-mails and made at least seven phone calls to its staff in the space of nine working days in June.

The calls began a day after he had made a claim for damages to his motorcycle after an accident along Dunearn Road on June 8.

The firm claimed that the tirades included "vulgar and threatening language" which caused "emotional distress and annoyance".

But the judge said AXA did not not show it was entitled to sue on behalf of its staff.

He also noted that while AXA had claimed the man was harassing staff, from Mr Chandran's point of view, he was pressing for his rights as a policy holder.

The judge accepted Mr Chandran's conduct may be unjustified morally and socially, but to award a civil remedy may open the floodgates.

He warned that AXA may be in the right but there may be other employers "who might rely on a loosely proclaimed law of harassment to oppress its weaker and poorer opponent".

Which is why Parliament should be left to decide whether civil law should be used to govern annoyance caused by means of letters, e-mails and telephone messages.

"These are matters that need public debate to have the social, moral and legal dimensions brought into the open. The forum for that is in the well of Parliament," he explained.

Justice Choo added that the court is not subject to such accountability and had to be restrained in its law-making process.

vijayan@sph.com.sg


Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.

VIDEOS TO WATCH

SERVICES