Attorney General v Ho Tee Ming

Judgment Date31 January 1969
Date31 January 1969
Docket NumberCivil Appeal No Y56 of 1967
CourtFederal Court (Singapore)
Ho Tee Ming

[1969] SGFC 2

Wee Chong Jin CJ


F A Chua J


A V Winslow J

Civil Appeal No Y56 of 1967

Federal Court

Damages–Quantum–Plaintiff developed rheumatoid arthritis after accident–Whether disease related to accident–Whether trial judge's award of damages should be varied–Tort–Negligence–Breach of duty–Plaintiff fell from rafters while building a garage roof at prison–Plaintiff inexperienced in such work–Whether prison authorities failed to provide a sufficiently reasonable and safe system of work for the work which they required the plaintiff to do–Tort–Negligence–Contributory negligence–Plaintiff fell from rafters while building a garage roof at prison–Plaintiff inexperienced in such work–Whether any contributory negligence on plaintiff's part

The plaintiff was a prisoner nearing the end of his term of imprisonment. He had been instructed by the instructor of metal works at that prison to place some asbestos sheets on the metallic rafters of the framework of a garage which said sheets were intended to serve as the roof of that garage. When carrying out this task, he lost his balance and fell from the roof.

The trial judge held that the plaintiff had proved negligence on the part of the prison and awarded him damages for the injuries sustained by him as a consequence of such negligence in the sum of $14,000 for general damages and $600 for special damages.

The prison appealed.

Held, allowing the appeal in part:

(1) Working on a framework of a roof was different from working on tops of buses which the plaintiff had done before. It entailed more risks and required more experience at balancing oneself: at [13].

(2) It was difficult to avoid the conclusion that the prison, in sending up an inexperienced person such as the plaintiff on to the metallic framework of the roof, failed to take adequate precautions against the kind of over-balancing that did occur. Such precautions were those which a reasonable and prudent man would have thought so obvious that it was folly to omit them or that it was unreasonable or imprudent to omit them: at [14].

(3) It was insufficient merely to provide a ladder and a plank or two for an inexperienced workman and to require him to lift up a heavy asbestos sheet whilst sitting or squatting on a plank and then to require him to place or align that sheet over rafters in a desired position. This was so especially since the instructor himself had no experience of working on top of rafters such as these: at [15].

(4) Despite his inexperience, the plaintiff had successfully carried out his earlier duties and the accident occurred only when he was raising himself up with a view to coming down. One would have thought that if he had exercised the same care as he did climbing onto the roof and onto the plank, he should have been able to negotiate the return journey safely. However, once the plaintiff completed the job, he failed to take reasonable care for his own safety when raising himself up from his squatting position and thereby contributed to his own injury. His share in the responsibility for the accident was accordingly assessed at one-half and the damages recoverable were therefore reduced accordingly: at [17].

(5) The trial judge was correct to find that there was a relationship between the accident and the onset of rheumatoid arthritis, rather than attributing it to the emotional upset of the plaintiff arising from his being a prisoner, since the plaintiff had been a prisoner since 1961 and the disease only set in about September 1965 soon after the accident: at [18].

(6) The plaintiff had prior to his imprisonment been working as a bar waiter. He was about 39 years of age when damages were assessed. It was clear that he would be unable to do heavy manual work but, bearing in mind that he was an ex-prisoner, probably be able to obtain some form of employment of a lighter nature for a period of ten working years and not more. His earning capacity would have been reduced by about $100 per month from his previous earnings of $200 per month as a waiter. The award of $14,000 as general damages ($9,000 in respect of loss of earnings and $5,000 for pain and suffering and loss of amenities of life) was confirmed as was the award of $600 as special damages for loss of earnings before the trial: at [18].

Eng Lye Hup Co Ltd v Chua Sai Choo [1968-1970] SLR (R) 19 (folld)

Morris v West Hartlepool Steam Navigation Co Ltd [1956] AC 552; [1956] 1 All ER 385 (refd)

Paris v Stepney Borough Council [1951] AC 367; [1951] 1 All ER 42 (refd)

Lee Kim Siang (State Counsel) for the appellant

Dennis Murphy (Williams & Co) for the respondent.

A V Winslow J

(delivering the judgment of the court):

1 This is an appeal by the Attorney-General, Singapore against the decision of Kulasekaram J who held that the plaintiff/respondent had proved negligence on the part of the prison authorities at the Medium Security Prison, Changi on 15 September 1965 and awarded him damages for the injuries sustained by him as a consequence of such negligence. The appeal is directed both against the question of liability as well as the quantum of damages awarded in the sum of $14,000 for general damages and $600 for special...

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