Chua Ah Beng v The Commissioner for Labour

Judgment Date30 August 2002
Date30 August 2002
Docket NumberOriginating Motion No 600004 of
CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
Chua Ah Beng
Commissioner for Labour

[2002] SGHC 197

Tay Yong Kwang JC

Originating Motion No 600004 of 2002

High Court

Administrative Law–Judicial review–Application for orders of certiorari and mandamus–Whether to grant such orders–Employment Law–Commissioner for Labour–Workmen's compensation–Employee sustaining injury while at work–Employee claiming compensation under Workmen's Compensation Act (Cap 354, 1998 Rev Ed)–Employee suing employer under common law for damages–Dismissal of employee's suit–Employee declining to require court to assess compensation–Whether employee could revive statutory claim–Judicial interpretation of the Act–Section 33 Workmen's Compensation Act (Cap 354, 1998 Rev Ed)–Words and Phrases–“if he has recovered damages in respect of that injury in any court from his employer”–Section 33 (1) Workmen's Compensation Act (Cap 354, 1998 Rev Ed)

The employers of the plaintiff (“Chua”) lodged a claim for compensation under the Workmen's Compensation Act (Cap 354, 1998 Rev Ed) (the “WCA”) following a workman's accident. The claim was assessed by the Workmen's Compensation Department at $139,650. Although Chua objected to the amount, the defendant declined to vary it.

Chua then decided to sue his employers for damages under the common law and asked for the suspension of his claim under the WCA until the civil suit was concluded.

Chua's suit was dismissed at trial. On appeal, although he had the option of having the appeal court assess compensation as provided for under s 33 (3) of the WCA, he did not do so. When Chua informed the defendant that he wished to revive his statutory claim, he was told that he could not do so as he had already sued his employers and did not ask the court to assess compensation.

Chua then filed the present motion seeking orders of certiorari and mandamus.

Held, dismissing the appeal:

(1) A workman could not claim under the WCA if he had sued his employer, or once the court pronounced in his favour, regardless of whether he was ultimately able to get his employer to pay the damages awarded (s 33 (1)): at [31 (b)] and [31 (d)].

(2) A workman could claim under the WCA if he discontinued his suit against his employer before it was determined by the court: at [31 (c)].

(3) A workman could not sue his employer if he made a claim under the WCA (s 33 (2) (a)); the prohibition included the situation where a suit was commenced and then suspended. However, he could sue his employer if he withdrew his claim under the WCA before it was determined. By logical extension, he could not sue his employer once he succeeded in his claim under the WCA: at [31 (e)] to [31 (g)].

(4) A workman who failed in his suit against his employer or in the appeal thereof could require the trial or the appellate court to assess the compensation which would have been payable under the WCA (s 33 (3)); this was subject to the conditions in ss 10 , 11 (1) (b), and 11 (4): at [31 (i)] and [31 (j)].

(5) A workman who claimed for compensation under the WCA but failed, whether before the Commisioner for Labour or on appeal, could then sue his employer: at [33].

(6) Where a workman declined to require the court to assess compensation following the dismissal of his suit against his employer, he could claim under the WCA in the usual way if he preferred the Commissioner for Labour to make the assessment, provided his claim was made within the one-year period specified in s 11 (1) (b): at [34].

(7) No order of certiorari or mandamus would, however, be made as Chua, by informing the defendant that he was going to commence an action in court, must be deemed to have withdrawn his claim under the WCA. Therefore, there was no application before the defendant to be restored for assessment: at [39].

(8) Nevertheless, although Chua was out of time under s 11 (1) (b)to file a fresh application under the WCA, it was open for him to apply to the defendant to excuse the delay as provided for in s 11 (4). In this regard, the withdrawal of an earlier application under the WCA should not be a bar to a further application if it complied with the WCA: at [39].

Jeremiah Depuis v Haulbowline Industries [1964] IR 341 (refd)

Ying Tai Plastic & Metal Manufacturing (S) Pte Ltd v Zahrin bin Rabu [1983-1984] SLR (R) 212; [1982-1983] SLR 117 (refd)

Workmen's Compensation Act (Cap 354, 1998 Rev Ed) s 33 (consd);ss 3 (1), 3 (5) (a), 3 (5) (b), 10, 11, 18, 23 (1), 25 (1), 29, 32

Leslie Netto and S Magintharan (Netto Tan & S Magin) for the plaintiff

Wilson Hue (State Counsel) for the defendant

Michael Eu Hai Meng (ComLaw LLC) for the employer and employer's insurers.

Tay Yong Kwang JC

1 In Originating Summons No 601718 of 2001, the above applicant (hereinafter “the plaintiff”) applied for and obtained the following consent order of court on 14 January 2002:

(a) The plaintiff be granted leave to issue a notice of motion for an order of certiorari to quash the decision of the learned Commissioner for Labour made on 27 October 2001 with respect to Labour Case: 00-0236k wherein the learned Commissioner for Labour decided that the plaintiff was barred from claiming his workmen compensation and refused to assess the compensation of the plaintiff under the Workmen's Compensation Act (Cap 354, 1998 Ed) (“WCA”).

(b) The plaintiff be granted leave to issue a notice of motion for an order of mandamus directing the learned Commissioner for Labour to reinstate the aforesaid case and to assess the plaintiff's claim under the WCA.

(c) The plaintiff is to file and serve within one week hereof the notice of motion pursuant to this order on the Attorney-General's Chambers, the employers of the plaintiff and the employers' insurers.

2 Following from the above, the plaintiff filed this originating motion seeking the said orders of certiorari and of mandamus and praying that the costs of and occasioned by the motion be taxed and paid by the defendant.

Factual background

3 The plaintiff, 41 years of age, was employed by C & P Holdings Pte Ltd of 30 Penjuru Lane, Singapore 609197 as a heavy vehicle operator since 1981. In 1998, he was instructed by his employers to operate a heavy Kalmar crane.

4 On 17 March 2000, while he was checking the hydraulic oil pipes of the crane, he lost his balance and fell off an elevated platform which was some 1.76m high. He was sent to hospital subsequently where it was discovered that he had fractured C5 and C6 of his spinal cord. He now moves with difficulty and his four limbs are not able to function normally. He also has impaired sensation below the C5 level and has no control over his bowels.

5 The plaintiff's employers lodged the notice of accident with the Workmen's Compensation Department and pursuant to that notice, the Commissioner for Labour assessed compensation at $139,650 on 7 July 2000. His employers' insurers lodged a notice of objection to the assessment. Having taken legal advice, the plaintiff also disputed the said assessment on the ground that the amount awarded was too low. His solicitors gave notice of objections on 20 July 2000, within the 14-day period stipulated in s 25 (1) of the WCA.

6 The Commissioner for Labour then required the plaintiff to be medically examined by a medical practitioner of his choice for the purpose of reassessment. Subsequently, the Commissioner for Labour informed the plaintiff's solicitors that the employers' insurers' specialist report supported the earlier assessment and asked whether the plaintiff was still disputing the amount assessed.

7 On 25 August 2000, the plaintiff's solicitors notified the Commissioner for Labour that the plaintiff had decided to proceed with an...

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