China Taiping Insurance (Singapore) Pte Ltd and another v Low Yi Lian Cindy and others

JudgeGeorge Wei J
Judgment Date04 January 2018
Neutral Citation[2018] SGHC 2
Plaintiff CounselAppoo Ramesh and Rajashree Rajan (Just Law LLC)
Date04 January 2018
Docket NumberTribunal Appeal No 28 of 2016
Hearing Date12 October 2017
Subject MatterConstruction of statute,Work Injury Compensation Act,Statutory Interpretation,Definitions,Employment Law
Defendant CounselLalwani Anil Mangan and Raina Mohan Chugani (Lalwani Law Chambers)
CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
Citation[2018] SGHC 2
Published date10 January 2018
George Wei J: Introduction

This is an appeal under s 29 of the Work Injury Compensation Act (Cap 354, 2009 Rev Ed) (“WICA”) and O 55 r 1 of the Rules of Court (Cap 322, R 5, 2014 Rev Ed) against the whole of the decision of the learned Assistant Commissioner on 3 November 2016.1 The issues before this court concern the legal capacity of the respondents to make any claim under the WICA in relation to a workplace accident which resulted in the death of the employee, in the absence of a grant of representation by grant of probate or letters of administration.

After hearing arguments and submissions, I reserved judgment which I now deliver.

Background facts

The brief facts as set out below are largely adopted from the decision of the learned Assistant Commissioner dated 3 November 2016 (“the Decision”) and are generally not in dispute.

Mr Low Ngak Boon (“the deceased”) was working at his workplace, Innotel Hotel, on 14 August 2014 when he started having breathing difficulties. After alerting a colleague, the deceased was taken by ambulance to the hospital where he was subsequently pronounced dead from a heart attack.2

On 22 June 2015, a Fatal Accident Statement (“FAS”) was made by the next of kin of the deceased, namely Low Yi Lian Cindy, Low De You, Low Yi Ling Ann and Tan Mui Tiang, the respondents. I note that the FAS was signed only by the 4th respondent, Tan Mui Tiang, who was the deceased’s widow.3 I return to this at the end of the judgment (see [94] below).

On 16 July 2015, a Notice of Assessment was issued by the Ministry of Manpower (“MOM”) stating that the compensation payable was $146,823.75. A claim under the WICA was lodged by the respondents.4 The applicants (the deceased’s employer and the latter’s insurer) lodged their Notice of Objection and the matter was fixed for hearing at the MOM on 11 March 2016. During the pre-trial conferences, no issue on the capacity of the respondents was raised.5

On 11 March 2016, after the hearing of some witness testimony, the trial was adjourned for a second tranche where additional witnesses including the deceased’s supervisor were to be examined. On 11 July 2016, learned counsel for the applicants made an oral interlocutory application for the determination of the issue of whether the respondents were entitled to continue the proceedings given that they had not been appointed as the executors or administrators of the estate of the deceased.6 Indeed, I note that up to date of the hearing of the appeal, neither letters of administration nor grant of probate had been granted in respect of the deceased’s estate.

On 18 July 2016, the Assistant Commissioner directed the applicants to file written submissions. The respondents were given leave to file reply submissions. On 3 November 2016, the Assistant Commissioner dismissed the applicants’ interlocutory application to terminate the proceedings. His reasons are set out in the Decision.

On 21 November 2016, the applicants filed an appeal under s 29 of the WICA to set aside the Assistant Commissioner’s decision of 3 November 2016 and the Notice of Assessment dated 16 July 2015.

The decision below

The Assistant Commissioner summarised the issue before him at [4] of the Decision as “whether the [next of kin] needed to obtain Grant of Probate … or Letter of Authority … before lodging a claim under WICA”.

In reaching his decision, the Assistant Commissioner took into account the decision of the Court of Appeal in SGB Starkstrom Pte Ltd v Commissioner of Labour [2016] 3 SLR 598 (“Starkstrom”) as well as Teo Gim Tiong v Krishnasamy Pushpavathi (legal representative of the estate of Maran s/o Kannakasabai, deceased) [2014] 4 SLR 15 (“Maran”). The Assistant Commissioner commented at [6] of the Decision that “[b]oth cases deal with threshold issues and emphasize the need for those acting for claimants who are incapacitated in one way or the other … [to] be duly authorized in law to do so” [emphasis and internal quotation marks omitted]. The Assistant Commissioner found that both cases were distinguishable for the reasons which he set out in the Decision, and proceeded to dismiss the application.

The issue in this appeal

The applicants submit that the main issue in the appeal is whether the next of kin of a deceased worker who passed away intestate can make a valid claim for compensation under the WICA, without first having obtained letters of administration to represent the estate of the deceased worker.7

The applicants also submit that closely connected or arising from the main issue is the question of whether the common law principle that only a person who has obtained letters of administration has the locus standi to act on behalf of the estate of the deceased worker has been abrogated by ss 6, 9 and 27 of the WICA.8

Whilst it is proper and convenient to have regard to the applicants’ framing of the issues to be decided, I observe that the issues arise in the context of an application by the dependants of the deceased for work injury compensation payable in the case of an accident resulting in death. This is made clear by the FAS in which the identities of the four dependants (the respondents) are set out in Part 5 of the Statement.9 I shall return to the FAS below.

The WICA framework: Rationale, key definitions and procedures Rationale

This can be dealt with briefly as the general points are well-known and summarised in Kee Yau Chong v S H Interdeco Pte Ltd [2014] 1 SLR 189. A few points will suffice. The long title of the statute states that the WICA is “[a]n Act relating to the payment of compensation to employees for injury suffered in the course of their employment.” The WICA has a long history. It has been amended numerous times and dates back to the Workmen’s Compensation Act (Act 25 of 1975) and beyond.

At the second reading of the Work Injury Compensation (Amendment) Bill 2011 (Bill 18 of 2011) (see Singapore Parliamentary Debates, Official Report (21 November 2011) vol 88), acting Minister of Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin explained the Government’s thinking behind the WICA and the 2011 amendments thus:

… [T]he Work Injury Compensation Act … is a piece of social legislation that aims to provide low-cost and expeditious resolution of work-related injury claims … In 2010, a total of $76.5 million in compensation was awarded for permanent incapacity and death. On top of that, an estimated $20 million was paid out by employers and insurers for medical leave wages and medical expenses for both minor and serious injuries ...

The changes proposed in the Bill are based on two key principles. The first is to strike a fair balance between compensation for the injured worker and obligations placed on the employer or insurer. The second is to ensure that the WICA framework remains expeditious and workers are able to receive compensation promptly.

Balancing the interests of the injured worker and the employer or insurer is critical because WICA is a no-fault regime, similar to other WICA regimes overseas. This means that injured workers will receive compensation as long as the accident occurred out of and in the course of work, regardless of which party was at fault. Therefore, the obligations placed on the employers and insurers in areas such as compensation and liability must necessarily be limited. Injured workers who feel they deserve higher compensation, do have the option to file a civil claim, if they can prove negligence of the party they are claiming against.

I pause to stress that whilst the WICA speaks of “compensation to employees” and advances the goal of “[b]alancing the interests of the injured worker and the employer or insurer”, the WICA regime also speaks to the interests of dependants of a deceased worker who as a result of the accident and death of the worker find that they have lost their source of income and financial support.

As will be discussed in more detail below, dependency claims are separate and distinct from claims on behalf of the estate of the deceased worker. The point I make at the outset is that the statement by the acting Minister of Manpower that one objective of the 2011 amendments was “to ensure that the WICA framework remains expeditious and workers are able to receive compensation promptly” applies equally to dependency claims. Indeed, the Explanatory Statement to the Workmen’s Compensation Bill 1975 (Bill 5 of 1975) stated that one objective behind the repeal and re-enactment of the Workmen’s Compensation Act was to “provide for more effective enforcement and administration and for swifter remedies”. The Explanatory Statement also noted that the changes made by the 1975 Bill included an amendment to the definition of “dependant” “so that a person who falls within one of the specified categories of relatives will not have to prove actual dependency in order to obtain compensation where a workman has been involved in a fatal accident.”

The WICA does not replace or remove any common law right of action. Instead, the goal of the WICA is to set up a statutory scheme linked with insurance to provide quick means for compensation. In broad terms, two main goals (leaving aside for the moment any interplay between the goals) are to provide quick basic no-fault compensation for: employees injured by accidents during or arising in employment, where the compensation is for the employee (and his estate if relevant); and dependants for loss of dependency.

Key definitions

Section 2 of the WICA defines “dependant”, in respect of a deceased employee, as meaning:

the wife, husband, parent, grandparent, step-father, step-mother, child, grandchild, step-child, brother, sister, half-brother, half-sister, step-brother and step-sister irrespective of whether that person is actually dependent on the employee’s earnings or not and for the purpose of this definition —

the child of a deceased employee shall be deemed...

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3 cases
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    • Court of Appeal (Singapore)
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    ...(see also the decision of the High Court in China Taiping Insurance (Singapore) Pte Ltd and another v Low Yi Lian Cindy and others [2018] 4 SLR 523 (“China Taiping”) at [53] and [55]). Further, as set out at [93] of the Transfer Judgment, the established case law also makes clear that s 10(......
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    ...two (see also the decision of the High Court in China Taiping Insurance (Singapore) Pte Ltd and another v Low Yi Lian Cindy and others [2018] 4 SLR 523 (“China Taiping”) at [53] and [55]). The established case law also makes clear that s 10(3)(a)(ii) of the CLA excludes an estate’s claim fo......
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    • High Court (Singapore)
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    ...and (b) dependants for loss of dependency: China Taiping Insurance (Singapore) Pte Ltd and another v Low Yi Lian Cindy and others [2018] 4 SLR 523 (“China Taiping”) at [19]. It is generally also a lower cost alternative to pursuing a common law claim for damages arising from workplace negli......

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