Landmark case sees firm win legal costs from injured worker

by Hannah Norton07 Apr 2015
A firm that offered to accept 50% blame for the injury of a worker has won legal costs back.

The SIA Engineering Company (SIAEC) is to receive compensation for legal costs from retired airport technician V. Ram Das, after he sued the company following an injury in 2008.

Das fell through an open door on an aircraft cargo hold – in spite of a net being in place – while supervising cleaners on a plane parked at Changi Airport.

Despite being caught by two workers three metres beneath him he sustained hip fractures, and was hospitalised and placed on medical leave for eight months. 
He sued and received $35,000 in damages, but a rare High Court order means he will have to pay for some of SIAEC’s legal costs.

In judgment grounds released last week, Judicial Commissioner Hoo Sheau Peng said the courts will order indemnity costs "when the circumstances justify it".
In this case, SIAEC offered to accept 50% blame without going to court in 2011, which Das rejected. The following year, the High Court ruled that the company was 50% liable.

The rejection was taken into consideration last year when Das argued for his own legal costs.

Instead, the High Court ordered Das pay SIAEC’s legal costs from the time to offer was made to the date the case was dismissed in the district court, and from the time he appealed and won 50% liability.

Judicial Commissioner Peng noted that SIAEC's initial offer to settle was serious, genuine and reasonable, and there was nothing "exceptional in the present case to justify a departure" from the court's use of its discretion.

"It is clear (Das) has obtained a judgment, whether on appeal or first instance, which was not more favourable than the terms of the Offer to Settle. (His) objections have been addressed... and no more need be said on it."

The case serves as a landmark precedent as it shows indemnity costs can kick in even at the stage when the defendant offers to settle on the apportioning of liability, before the court assesses how much is to be paid.

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