30 March 2016

The Court of Appeal has upheld a decision that paves the way for an engineer, who became mentally incapacitated after he was seriously injured at work, to sue for damages. The appeals court affirmed an earlier ruling that only a person, who is appointed by the court under the Mental Capacity Act to act for a mentally incapacitated worker, can claim work injury compensation on his behalf.

In the current case, Mr Tan Yun Yeow, 37, suffered severe burns after he was involved in an electrical explosion in March 2009.

In August 2012, Mr Tan's younger brother, Mr Rodney Tan, was appointed by the court to make legal claims on behalf of the injured man, who is married with a son. A string of correspondence between Mr Rodney Tan's lawyer Noor Marican and the Commissioner followed. Mr Marican insisted that Mr Rodney Tan never applied for compensation and that the Commissioner's notice of assessment was null and void. In September 2013, Mr Rodney Tan, who is also represented by Mr Ramasamy Chettiar, filed a High Court suit seeking $3 million in damages against three defendants, including his brother's employers. But the Commissioner said the 2010 letter was a valid claim, which would mean that Mr Rodney Tan cannot pursue the suit. Mr Rodney Tan brought judicial review proceedings to quash the Commissioner's decision.

After seeking the advice of the Attorney-General's Chambers, the Commissioner's position changed. In July 2014, she declared there was no valid claim as Mr Tan had no capacity to make the decision in 2010. This prompted his employers to object. Their insurer, MSIG Insurance, brought judicial review proceedings to quash the Commissioner's later decision. Last year, the High Court quashed the 2010 assessment, ruling that the injured man lacked the capacity to make a choice and only a person appointed by the court can act on his behalf. The insurer appealed. Its lawyer, Mr K. Anparasan, argued that Mr Rodney Tan had the legal standing to claim compensation on behalf of his brother. Second Solicitor-General Kwek Mean Luck, acting for the Commissioner, said in his submissions that the insurer was trying to force the injured man to accept compensation he never chose to claim and depriving him of his right to claim for damages under common law. The apex court, led by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, dismissed the insurer's appeal. It will issue written grounds at a later date. 

8th April 2015

"A workman who went into a coma following an electrical explosion will get to sue in court after a judge held that the compensation offered by the Commissioner for Labour, which would have ruled out the court suit, was invalid. A worker who is mentally incapacitated by injury has to make a claim through a representative under the Mental Capacity Act.

Justice Quentin Loh found that there was no valid nomination under the Act to represent Mr Tan Yun Yeow, when $225,000 was offered to him in June 2010. This means the case can be heard in the High Court, where he is seeking about $3 million in damages for the 2009 accident that left him comatose for slightly over a year. He is now bedridden and has brain damage.

The case is significant as it clarifies that the next of kin or any other person has to be authorised by the court to make a claim under the Act for an injured party unable to manage his own affairs.

Mr Tan, through lawyers Noor Marican and Ramasamy Chettiar, sought to reject the compensation and seek damages in the High Court suit instead. But the insurer for Mr Tan's employer objected, and argued through lawyer K. Anparasan that the Commissioner had the discretion to accept a claim by the next of kin, thus making the 2010 assessment binding. Justice Loh disagreed, ruling that the injured man lacked the capacity to make a choice and only a person appointed by the court had the right to act on his behalf. He quashed the 2010 notice of assessment by the Commissioner, stressing that the courts will jealously guard "the rights of injured workers who lack the mental capacity and competence to make choices that are in their best interests". 

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