Erect Scaffolding Pte Ltd v Hor Kew Pte Ltd

JurisdictionSingapore
JudgeLee Seiu Kin J
Judgment Date24 September 2007
Neutral Citation[2007] SGHC 160
CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
Published date07 December 2007
Year2007
Plaintiff CounselLee Mun Hooi (Lee Mun Hooi & Co)
Defendant CounselEugene Tan and Tan Wei Yi (Drew & Napier LLC)
Subject MatterDamages,Measure of damages,Tort,Conversion,Measure of damages is reasonable sum for hire during period of detention,Whether quantum of damages for period of detention measured by taking rates for individual components,Measure and quantum of damages for items lost
Citation[2007] SGHC 160

24 September 2007

Lee Seiu Kin J

1 In July 2002 the HDB awarded to Wan Soon Construction Pte Ltd (“Wan Soon”) a contract for the construction of 1384 units of flats at the Kallang Whampoa area (“the Works”). Wan Soon awarded to the plaintiff, a company in the business of providing scaffolding material for construction works, the sub-contract for the rental, erection and dismantling of metal scaffolding for the Works. This was a lump sum contract of about $980,000. Pursuant to this sub-contract the plaintiff commenced the supply and erection of scaffolding as Wan Soon progressed with the Works. However in April 2004, the HDB terminated the contract with Wan Soon who in turn terminated the sub-contract with the plaintiff. By this time, the plaintiff had erected scaffolding for about a third of the height of the blocks of flats amounting to about 30% of the entire scaffolding requirement. In May 2004, the HDB awarded the balance of the Works to the defendant. The plaintiff and defendant attempted to come to agreement on the terms under which the defendant could take over the rental of the scaffolding already erected by the plaintiff on site, and for the plaintiff to supply and erect the scaffolding for the remainder of the works. The plaintiff initially quoted a sum of $1.1m that was eventually reduced to $1.094m. However they failed to reach agreement because they could not agree on the prices of other related materials. In the event the defendant engaged another contractor, Lian Beng, to supply and erect the remainder of the scaffolding for the sum of $1.15m. Lian Beng erected its scaffolding above (but without being connected to) the plaintiff’s scaffolding. In the course of completing the Works, the defendant made use of the plaintiff’s scaffolding for the lower levels. Upon completion of the Works, Lian Beng dismantled its scaffolding as well as those belonging to the plaintiff, returning the pieces belonging to the plaintiff to its store. However the plaintiff claimed that a large number of pieces were not returned. The parties agree that the conversion terminated between June 2005, when the defendant requested the plaintiff to remove the scaffolding for certain blocks, and March 2006 when all scaffolding (except for the missing items) were returned.

2 The plaintiff took out the writ of summons in this action on 21 April 2005, claiming the return of all its metal scaffolding and damages for conversion. The plaintiff applied in Summons No 2881 of 2005 for judgment but the Assistant Registrar granted unconditional leave to defend on 17 August 2005. The plaintiff appealed against this order in Registrar’s Appeal No 234 of 2005. On 7 September 2005 the High Court allowed the appeal and granted the plaintiff interlocutory judgment against the defendant with damages to be assessed with costs of the hearing below and the appeal be reserved to the Registrar.

3 On 19 January 2007, after a 9-day assessment hearing in Notice of Assessment No 23 of 2006 held on 14-15 June, 28-30 August, 4-5 October, 11 December 2006 and 19 January 2007, the Assistant Registrar made the following orders:

(a) judgment be entered for the plaintiff in the sum of $157,792.73 being damages assessed and interest thereon at 6% per annum from 1 July 2004 till date of judgment;

(b) costs fixed at $13,000.00 and reasonable disbursements be paid by the defendant to the plaintiff for the summary judgment and the appeal hearing; and

(c) costs fixed at $110,000.00 and reasonable disbursements be paid by the defendant to the plaintiff for the hearing on assessment of damages.

4 In Registrar’s Appeal No 27 of 2007 the plaintiff appealed against the decision of the Assistant Registrar ordering judgment in the sum of $157,792.73. The plaintiff prayed for damages to be assessed at $1,499,415.09 for conversion and $362,497.91 in compensation for lost items, as well as interest thereon.

5 In Registrar’s Appeal No 42 of 2007, the defendant appealed against the decision of the Assistant Registrar ordering costs against the defendant fixed at $13,000.00 and reasonable disbursements for the summary judgment and appeal hearing, and fixed at $110,000 and reasonable disbursements for the assessment of damages hearing, and interest on the judgment sum at 6% per annum from 1 July 2004 to date of judgment.

6 Counsel made their submissions to me on 21 March and 7 May 2007, at the end of which I allowed the appeal in Registrar’s Appeal No 27 of 2007 and awarded the plaintiff the following sums:

(a) $331,500 being damages in conversion with interest on that sum to run from the date of the cause of action, viz. 1 July 2004; and

(b) $148,111 being damages for the lost items with interest to run from the date of interlocutory judgment, viz. 19 January 2007.

Thereafter the defendant applied for leave to withdraw its appeal in Registrar’s Appeal No 42 of 2007, which I granted.

7 On 5 June 2007 both parties filed appeals against the whole of my decision of 7 May 2007. The plaintiff’s appeal is filed in Court of Appeal No 65 of 2007 and the defendant’s appeal in Court of Appeal No 68 of 2007. I now give the grounds for my decision.

8 The first head of damages is in conversion. For the relevant period the defendant had converted for its use the scaffolding that the plaintiff had erected on the site. At issue was the quantum of damages. The plaintiff contend that in law the measure of damages is for a “reasonable sum for hire during the period of detention”, citing Clerk & Linsell on Torts 17th Edition [13-138] and Strand Electrical Engineering Co Ltd v Brisford Entertainments Ltd [1952] 2 QB 246 (“Strand’s case”). Strand’s case was followed by the Court of Appeal in Siew Kong Engineering Works v Lian Yit Engineering Sdn Bhd [1993] 2 SLR 505. The plaintiff produced expert evidence on the market rates for various scaffolding components and based on those rates his claim came up to about $1.5m.

9 The defendant did not dispute that the relevant criterion for assessment of damages was a reasonable sum for hire during the period of detention. However the defendant disputed the plaintiff’s contention that this is to be measured by taking the rates for individual components as this did not take into account that the large number of components involved which would, in the ordinary course of commerce, be rented out on a bulk rate basis.

10 I agreed with the defendant’s contention that it would not be reasonable to use market rates of individual components to assess damages in a bulk situation as this one. The better approach would...

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2 books & journal articles
  • Tort Law
    • Singapore
    • Singapore Academy of Law Annual Review No. 2007, December 2007
    • December 1, 2007
    ...the plaintiff”s items and those bought by the second defendant for its own use. 22.7 In Erect Scaffolding Pte Ltd v Hor Kew Pte Ltd[2007] SGHC 160, Lee Seiu Kin J dealt with the measure of damages for the plaintiff”s claim in respect of the conversion of its scaffolding by the defendant. Th......
  • Building and Construction Law
    • Singapore
    • Singapore Academy of Law Annual Review No. 2007, December 2007
    • December 1, 2007
    ...no loss on this head to be recovered. Conversion — Determination of damages 6.26 The case of Erect Scaffolding Pte Ltd v Hor Kew Pte Ltd[2007] SGHC 160 is one of those rare instances where a case involving conversion in a construction project proceeded to litigation. In that case, the plain......

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