Court awards record S$8.65m in personal injury claims to cyclist

SINGAPORE — The High Court has awarded S$8.65 million in damages to a cyclist struck by a bundle of overhead cables while riding on a pavement, in what is believed to be the largest payout in a personal injury claim.

While Ms Siew Pick Chiang’s physical injuries were “relatively minor”, the 42-year-old suffered serious post-traumatic stress disorder which saw her hospitalised up to 19 times over seven years after the accident, Justice Woo Bih Li said.

Apart from injuries on her head, face, neck, back and limbs, her memory and cognitive ability were impaired, the court heard. Ms Siew’s frequent meltdowns also disrupted various bodily functions, resulting in urine and faecal incontinence, irritable bowel syndrome and other health problems.

More than half of the payout (S$4.8 million) was to cover her future expenses for medical help and equipment and potential hospitalisation fees, a written judgment released last Thursday stated.

Ms Siew — who was cycling on a pavement along Pasir Ris Drive 8 on Oct 15, 2009 when the accident happened — sought to claim more than S$26 million for medical expenses, hiring caregivers to care for herself and her son who was born six months after the accident, loss of earnings, and taxi fares, among other things.

She launched the lawsuit against Hyundai Engineering & Construction Co Ltd in September 2012. The company was the contractor handling the cables that originated from its worksite.

Hyundai’s lawyer argued that Ms Siew’s “staggering” claim, 13 times the highest award of damages by a Singapore court for a personal injury claim, was a figure that “should give anyone pause for thought”.

The litigation process, which lasted almost four years, was singled out as an “important trigger” for Ms Siew’s stress, Justice Woo said.

Since the accident, she has been in and out of the hospital about 19 times, and remains warded at Mount Elizabeth Hospital since her last admission in February 2014.

Ms Siew, who ran a business providing pre- and post-natal services with her mother before the accident, was awarded S$1.08 million for loss of future earnings and S$4.8 million for anticipated future expenses.

Among the claims that were disallowed included expenses for separate caregivers for her son. There was no “documentary evidence” to support Ms Siew’s claims that part-time caregivers were indeed engaged to care for her son, Justice Woo said, adding that reports from doctors treating her showed that it was her mother who was taking care of her son, now aged six.

“(Ms Siew) submitted that her mother was suffering from stress from the constant worry over (her) … While such an argument might evoke some sympathy from the court, the point is that the plaintiff has to prove her case with evidence and not just rely on arguments,” Justice Woo said.

The judge also slashed her claims for hospital expenses, noting that she was staying in an executive room instead of an ordinary one for most days in the last admission, resulting in a higher charge of S$400 a day. “This was not justifiable,” he said.

The claims for hospital expenses were also inflated because of charges for food for her visitors and supplements and painkillers which “need not be dispensed by the hospital”, he pointed out.