Insurer rebuked for wasting court's time

A dispute over a $1,208 claim in an industrial accident that started in the Subordinate Courts and went all the way up to Singapore's highest court drew rebuke on Wednesday.

The fight was over whether an injured foreign worker who had successfully sued for compensation could recover the travel expenses he incurred when he returned to Singapore for the trial.

The Court of Appeal - Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon and Judges of Appeal Andrew Phang and V.K. Rajah - were surprised that the case had gone so far.

"All three of us are astonished, why this matter has gone up on appeal three times," said Justice Rajah, calling it an "extended wild goose chase".

CJ Menon said it was a "presposterous way of wasting time and money... on an issue of common sense".

The court dismissed the appeal by the employer's insurance firm as "wholly without merit" and ruled that Mr Yang Qiang was entitled to the travel expenses, which were reasonably incurred.

The insurer's lawyer Niru Pillai offered in open court to foot Mr Yang's bills for his lawyers from Hoh Law Corporation in the last two rounds of appeals.

He later told The Straits Times it was the honourable thing to do but declined to identify his client.

The case arose from a personal injury claim brought by Mr Yang, 41, against Lam Hwa Engineering & Trading for a hand injury he suffered in 2010 while working with a grinder.

He returned to China after the accident but came back to testify in the trial. The case was settled on the first day, with both sides agreeing on $75,000.

Mr Yang's lawyers then filed a bill of costs - a list of expenses incurred in the case.

A deputy registrar disallowed two items - $1,113 for Mr Yang's return air tickets and $95 for his travelling expenses within China.

Mr Yang's lawyers sought a review and a district judge reversed the decision, holding that the insurers had to pay for his travel expenses.

The insurers received permission to appeal to the High Court, which upheld the district judge's decision. The next stop was the Court of Appeal.

Mr Pillai cited foreign cases to argue that travel expenses should not be recoverable by a litigant, who has to attend court anyway.

But CJ Menon said the expenses were not unnecessary, and questioned why Mr Yang had to pay for the "pointless" battle with his compensation money.

selinal@sph.com.sg


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