Chhote Lal v China Construction (South Pacific) Development Co Pte Ltd

CourtDistrict Court (Singapore)
JudgeSheik Umar Bin Mohamed Bagushair
Judgment Date07 February 2022
Neutral Citation[2022] SGDC 23
Citation[2022] SGDC 23
Hearing Date02 November 2021,05 March 2021,14 June 2021,27 August 2021,03 March 2021,02 March 2021,15 April 2021,17 September 2021
Docket NumberSuit No 1106 of 2019, District Court Appeal No. 50 of 2021
Published date16 February 2022
Plaintiff CounselBelinder Kaur Nijar (Hoh Law Corporation)
Defendant CounselLee Whye Tuck, Ambrose (Just Law LLC)
Subject MatterEvidence,Witnesses,Impeaching witnesses' credibility,Tort,Negligence,Breach of duty
District Judge Sheik Umar Bin Mohamed Bagushair: Introduction

The Plaintiff’s claim arose out of the injuries he suffered on 24 October 2018 when he slipped on an unsecured metal decking that had been laid above some pipes to cover up a drain. The Plaintiff, together with a co-worker Mr Sheikh Mohammad Kawsar (“Mr Kawsar”), had been laying metal deckings over the drain, tying and securing them to pipes (the “Works”), for one and a half days when the accident happened. It is the Plaintiff’s case that when Mr Kawsar had left to collect more metal deckings, the Plaintiff had carried two metal deckings over his left shoulder and walked over an unsecured metal decking. He slipped and fell backwards, injuring his arm and back. I will refer to the Plaintiff’s account of what happened as the “Accident”.

The Defendant was the Plaintiff’s employer. Its central defence is that the Accident was staged by the Plaintiff so that he could receive substantial compensation. The Defendant relied heavily on the evidence of Mr Gurdit Singh (“Mr Singh”), the Plaintiff’s co-worker. Mr Singh trained in Chennai with the Plaintiff and they travelled to Singapore together to work for the Defendant. In Singapore, they stayed in the same dormitory and shared a room. Mr Singh’s evidence was that the Plaintiff and Mr Arun Kumar (“Mr Kumar”) (who had trained in Chennai together with the Plaintiff and Mr Singh) had discussed staging accidents to claim substantial compensation for their injuries.

On 2 November 2021, I dismissed the Plaintiff’s claim. I gave brief reasons for my decision. The Plaintiff has appealed, and I now set out my detailed grounds.

Parties’ positions

The Plaintiff argued that the Accident occurred as pleaded and denied that it was staged. The Works were conducted in an unsafe manner and the Defendant was in breach of its duties as an employer. The Defendant had also breached the Workplace Safety and Health (Scaffolds) Regulations 2011 (2020 Rev Ed) (“Scaffolds Regulations”). This was because the Works involved the erection of a scaffold and the Works should only have been done by trained scaffold erectors. Neither the Plaintiff nor Mr Kawsar were trained scaffold erectors. Furthermore, no scaffold supervisor was present to supervise the Works, and this too was in breach of the Scaffolds Regulations.

The Defendant relied heavily on Mr Singh’s evidence and submitted that the Plaintiff had staged the Accident. Mr Singh’s evidence was that the Plaintiff and Mr Kumar had on several occasions discussed staging accidents to receive substantial compensation. Even if the Accident was not staged, it was wholly caused by the Plaintiff’s negligence. The Works were fairly simple and uncomplicated and did not require any special training or skills. The Plaintiff was instructed to assist a more experienced worker, Mr Kawsar, to complete the Works. Daily toolbox meetings were also held and there was in place a safe system of work. There was no good reason for the Plaintiff to carry two heavy metal deckings on his shoulder (each weighing at least 12 kg) while standing over the pipes or unsecured metal deckings. This was reckless. Finally, the Defendant argued that the Plaintiff was not entitled to argue that it had breached the Scaffold Regulations because he had not pleaded it. In any event, the Works did not involve the construction of a scaffold.

Issues

The issues I had to decide were: Whether the Plaintiff staged the Accident. If the Plaintiff had not staged the Accident, did the Defendant breach the Scaffold Regulations? If the Scaffold Regulations were not breached, had the Defendant nevertheless breached its duties to the Plaintiff?

The Trial

The trial before me was bifurcated and took place over four days. The Plaintiff gave evidence and did not call any other witness. The Defendant called as witnesses Mr Singh, Mr Kawsar and Mr Kealy Low Hock Yew (“Mr Low”), the Defendant’s work safety and health coordinator.

The Plaintiff’s evidence

In the Plaintiff’s AEIC, he explained that on the day of the Accident (ie, 24 October 2018) he had been tasked to do the Works together with Mr Kawsar. They had started doing the Works the day before. Mr Kawsar was more senior than him and he followed his instructions. The Plaintiff’s job was to carry the metal deckings and lay them over galvanized iron (“GI”) pipes that had been installed over the drain. The Plaintiff said that it was Mr Kawsar, and not him, who would then tie the metal deckings to the GI pipes. The picture below shows how the drain, the GI pipes over the drain, and the metal deckings were placed.

In his AEIC, the Plaintiff addressed the circumstances leading to the Accident and the Accident itself as follows: On the day of the accident, we had just started our work of collecting the metal deckings from the store. I stayed at the accident site while Kawsar went to collect the metal deckings on his bobcat. He told me to just lay the metal deckings and he will return and tie them after he had collected more deckings. Following his instructions, I proceeded to lay the metal deckings. At the time of the accident, I had already laid some metal deckings over the GI pipes above the drain and was carrying 2 metal deckings on my left shoulder to lay the same above the pipes. I was walking on the metal deckings I had laid and was going further down to lay the 2 metal deckings I was carrying. However, my foot slipped on an unsecured metal decking which I had just laid above the GI pipes and I fell backwards hitting my back against the GI pipes. During my fall, I inadvertently let go of the 2 metal deckings that I was carrying. One of the metal deckings hit my arm, causing a fracture. I sustained personal injuries as a result of the fall. After my fall, even though I was in excruciating pain, I had to get up on my own. I waited for about 15 to 20 minutes but no one came. Kawsar came back much later from the store and I told him that I had just fallen and sustained injuries.

During his examination-in-chief, the Plaintiff amended paragraph 12 of his AEIC, saying that “it’s not my foot that slipped…[i]t is the metal decking that is on the pipe that slipped.”

During cross-examination, the Plaintiff gave further details as to how the Accident happened.

On the day of the accident itself, the Plaintiff and Mr Kawsar had started working from about 9:30 am. At about 11 am to 11:30 am, Mr Kawsar had left to collect more metal deckings. The Plaintiff continued to lay metal deckings. He started by first picking up metal deckings that had been placed close to the drain. In the photo at [8] above, the area where the metal deckings were stored would be at the bottom left of the photo (where a piece of metal decking can be partially seen).

The drain over which the metal deckings was to be placed was long and ran around the perimeter of the worksite. The depth of the drain was about 2.5 feet (or about 76 cm) and its width was about 3.5 feet (or slightly over 1 metre).

The Plaintiff carried the metal deckings and walked over the horizontal GI pipe to get to the other side of the drain (ie, the hoarding side – see photo at [8] above pointing out where the hoarding was). The metal deckings were placed one by one. The metal deckings can only be laid from the hoarding side. This was what the Plaintiff was told.

After having placed three metal deckings side by side (none were secured), the Plaintiff collected two metal deckings and carried them horizontally on his left shoulder. The Plaintiff said there were two types of metal deckings, one heavier than the other. The heavier metal decking weighed 15 kg and the other weighed 12 kg. He could not recall which ones he carried when the Accident happened but the total weight of the metal deckings over his shoulder would have been between 24 kg and 30 kg. He walked over the horizontal GI pipe and then had to position himself by turning his body to the right. He did this whilst balancing himself on top of the GI pipe and balancing the metal deckings over his left shoulder. While carrying the metal deckings, he would have to both squat and bend a little before he can lay down the metal deckings on the GI pipes.

Just before the Accident, his left foot was on the third metal decking (ie, the third one from the hoarding) and his other foot was on the GI pipe. However, he lifted his right foot and it was whilst he was doing so that the Accident occurred. He fell backwards and the metal deckings he was carrying hit his left hand.

When queried why he had to lift his right foot, the Plaintiff said the following:

Cross-examination of the Plaintiff

So, when my left foot is placed on the metal decking, I have to lift my right foot. Are you going to stand on a foot and walk? So, I have to lift my right foot over towards where my left foot is, and then there I turn around before I can lay the metal decking. So, is he saying, before he lays any metal decking, both of his foot will be above the GI pipes? The horizontal GI pipes. Yes.

I would just pause to comment that lifting his right foot (which is on the GI pipe) to where his left foot was (which is on the unsecured metal decking) would not make sense if his intention was to be standing on the GI pipes before laying the metal decking. Lifting his right foot to where his left foot was would in fact bring both his feet to the unsecured metal decking.

As he fell, he tried to grab hold of the GI pipes. When he fell, he hit the bottom horizontal pipe along the length of the drain (close to the bottom of the photograph at [8] above). Apart from the injury to his arm, no other part of his body was hit by the metal deckings he was carrying on his shoulder.

The Plaintiff confirmed that the Accident occurred between 11 am to 11:30 am, when Mr Kawsar had left to collect more metal deckings....

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