Two years ago, Mr Tan Choon Tsien's son wrecked a rental car in an accident and the rental company demanded the family pay $67,000 in damages within a week.
He downgraded to a smaller flat in case he had to pay up and the incident strained the father-son relationship.
When the elder Mr Tan refused to pay the car company, they were taken to court.
Fortunately for them, the judge ruled in their favour. Now, not only do they not have to pay anything, it is the rental company that has to pay them $9,000 in costs instead.
For two years, the thought of paying $67,000 for damages his son had caused in a car accident burdened Mr Tan, 39, a shopkeeper.
In August 2012, his eldest son, Mr Alan Tan Jun Rong, had crashed a rented Honda Civic along Bedok South Avenue 1.
Mr Alan Tan, then a 20-year-old full-time national serviceman, was driving alone towards East Coast Parkway when he lost control of the car and collided with a centre divider.
Mr Tan, who is now 22 and a storeman, told The New Paper he was fined $200 and given nine demerit points.
But he was not under the influence of alcohol at the time of the accident.
The rental company, Neo Rental and Resources, demanded the father and son cough up $67,000 within a week as compensation.
But the Tans refused because they said the demand was made under duress.
In a police report made on Oct 3, 2012, the elder Mr Tan claimed the rental company had forced them to sign papers agreeing to pay $67,000 for damages to the car.
The company took both men to court last year. But the case was dismissed during a one-day hearing at the State Courts in September this year.
Speaking to TNP, which first reported on the dispute in October 2012, the elder Mr Tan said: "Because of this case, my parents, who are in their 70s, are constantly worried over my son and how this court case will pan out. It is painful to see them worried all the time."
Last year, the elder Mr Tan sold his four-room flat in Tampines and moved his family to a three-room flat in Sengkang to raise extra money. It was a contingency plan, said the father.
"I needed money just in case we lost the case," he said.
But the case also put a strain on the father-son relationship.
Said the elder Mr Tan: "In the two years since the accident, my relationship with my son suffered and we seldom talked. But I had to find enough money. After all, he is still my son."
On Sept 15, District Judge Chiah Kok Khun dismissed the company's claims and ordered them to pay $9,000 in costs to the Tans.
The elder Mr Tan said: "I feel like a heavy stone has been lifted off my back. Now I feel we can move on from this incident."
He was also pleased that the rental firm had to pay $9,000 in costs as it would help in paying his legal bills.
No reason was given by the judge as to why the claims were dismissed.
But Mr Tan's lawyer Satwant Singh told TNP that the issue was whether Neo Rental and Resources was entitled to claim.
He said: "Pleading breach of rental does not help as there was no obligation to pay for repairs.
"Even if there is breach of the subsequent agreement, the claim is for $67,000 and not for damages. Neo Rental and Resources had to prove the costs incurred. This was not proven," he said.
The elder Mr Tan said he and his son can now work towards mending their relationship.
The younger Mr Tan said: "While driving, I lost control because I was too tired.
"I have a phobia of driving any vehicle now. The accident was my fault and I feel bad for causing my family so much pain."
He said he paid $388 to rent the car and had just received his driving licence the week before the accident.
Most big rental companies like Avis require drivers to be at least 23 years old and in full possession of a valid driving licence with at least one year of qualified driving experience at the time of rental. But smaller companies may be inclined to rent out cars to probational plate holders, said an industry player.
Demanding the hirer pay for accidents is unheard of, he added.
He said: "Even when the car is totally damaged, the rental company would claim damages from their insurance and not the hirer. Depending on the policy, the hirer pays the excess amount of the insurance."
This article was first published on November 3, 2014.
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