Landmark case: Injured worker sues for $3m

by Hannah Norton15 Apr 2015
A worker left brain-damaged after an electrical explosion is allowed to sue his former employer for damages, despite being offered compensation under the Work Injury Compensation Act.

Former engineer Tan Yun Yeow was logging data at a worksite in Changi in 2009 when an electrical explosion left him severely burned and in a comatose state for over a year.

In a reserved judgment released this month, Justice Quentin Loh found Tan would be able to find redress in common law, because the $225,000 compensation offered by the Commissioner for Labour in 2010 was invalid.

Under the Mental Capacity Act, a worker mentally incapacitated by injury has to make a claim through a representative.

Tan’s wife, Davy Lim, or brother Rodney, made a claim under the Act on behalf of him in May 2010.

However, it wasn’t until two years later that Rodney was authorised by the court under the Act to represent him.

Accordingly, Justice Loh ruled the Commissioner’s assessment of Tan’s eligibility for compensation of $225,000 in June 2010 was unlawful – highlighting that the courts will carefully protect "the rights of injured workers who lack the mental capacity and competence to make choices that are in their best interests".

As a result, Tan’s case can be heard in the High Court, where he is seeking around $3m in damages. His medical bills are believed to be over $600,000.

Justice Loh pointed out Tan’s claim was "far in excess of the Commissioner's award”.

"The plight of the injured employee brings into stark relief the consequences of a wrong choice.”

The Act awards compensation on a non-fault basis, in contrast to common law, where the injured party has to prove liability against parties involved in order to obtain damages.

In his conclusion, Justice Loh noted the employer, and its insurer, suffered “some degree of prejudice” in the case.

“The employer was always under the impression, and not wrongfully so, that they had satisfied their liability under the Act. In this regard, they had closed their books,” he said.

The employer’s ability to defend a common law action may also be affected given six years had passed since the accident, Justice Loh said.

“Nonetheless, the Commissioner had mistakenly acted beyond her jurisdiction and her Notice of Assessment is a nullity,” he conceded.

The landmark case creates a precedent that representatives mentally incapacitated by injury must be authorised by the court to make a claim under the Mental Capacity Act.

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