Rise in claims over injuries in public places

Lawyers say people now more aware of their rights, most cases settled before going to trial

Mr Ng Tee Kian being taken for treatment after he slipped and fell outside a retail unit at Fusionopolis One in 2016. He sued the facilities manager for the building for negligence, but the court stand-off was averted when the defendant accepted 60 p
Mr Ng Tee Kian being taken for treatment after he slipped and fell outside a retail unit at Fusionopolis One in 2016. He sued the facilities manager for the building for negligence, but the court stand-off was averted when the defendant accepted 60 per cent liability for his injury, with damages to be assessed. PHOTO: CLIFFORD LAW

The defence came to court armed with two huge slabs similar to floor tiles to show how the floor tiles at site with wet tissue papers were not inconspicuous, making a man's accident his own fault.

But the court stand-off was averted when the defendant, a services contractor, accepted 60 per cent liability for the plaintiff's injury, with damages to be assessed.

Mr Ng Tee Kian, 60, fractured his ankle when he slipped and fell outside a retail unit at Fusionopolis One on June 18, 2016. He later suffered from a sleep disorder involving an involuntary limb movement disorder.

He had been on his way to the toilet at about 9pm that night when he slipped on the floor, which was wet because of vomit, according to court papers filed.

Represented by Clifford Law partner Viviene Sandhu, he sued C&W Services, the facilities manager for the building, for negligence, and sought damages for medical expenses and loss of income.

Denying negligence, the defendant countered that Mr Ng had contributed to his injury by failing to keep a proper lookout.

According to defence papers filed by counsel from Wong Thomas & Leong, staff of a nearby unit had earlier noticed the wet patch and placed a chair over it, but it was apparently removed.

The defendant was not notified to send a cleaner.

The case was set for trial on July 1, where both counsel appeared before District Judge Eugene Teo and by consent, the defendant accepted 60 per cent liability for the accident, with the quantum payable to Mr Ng to be assessed separately by the State Courts Registrar.

Lawyers are seeing a rise in negligence claims involving injuries that have occurred in public places.

Hoh Law Corporation lawyer N. Srinivasan said: "One reason is people are now more aware of their rights over compensation for personal injuries unlike before, when they probably suffered in silence."

 
 

Clifford Law's Ms Sandhu cited examples from the cases she has handled, including a "trip and fall from a badly designed low step or carpet, falling branches or even falling signs in shops".

She said there have also been cases involving defective playground equipment and broken or uneven tiles or drain covers.

"All these issues arise from bad design, neglect or lack of maintenance. These cases are eventually settled with the client getting fairly compensated for their injuries and other losses. Only a small percentage of these cases actually proceed to trial."

Ms Sandhu added: "I have also seen a few unfortunate and bizarre cases, such as one where a luggage trolley rammed into my client.

"In another case, the waiter accidentally dropped the first course platter in a 10-course Chinese dinner (the cold platter) on my client's head. The reputable hotel disclaimed liability until we said we would call the remaining nine guests to give evidence."

Ms Sandhu said the case was eventually settled out of court with "my client getting her medical expenses, plastic surgeon's expenses, dry cleaning and pain and suffering compensation".

 
 

In March this year, a teen cyclist was hit and injured by a falling tree branch near a lamp post in Potong Pasir Avenue 1, where tree-pruning work was being done.

The left lane of the road was marked out by orange barriers and cones as part of safety measures. At issue is whether the cyclist went past the cones and entered the work area when he was hit by the branch.

The 14-year-old, who maintained that he was cycling along the edge of the cordoned area, suffered a minor head and shoulder injury as well as lacerations, and received treatment at KK Women's and Children's Hospital.

The boy's mother is seeking legal action on his behalf against the tree-pruning contractor, if compensation talks for negligence fails, said Ms Sandhu.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 07, 2020, with the headline 'Rise in claims over injuries in public places'. Print Edition | Subscribe