Kay Lim Construction & Trading Pte Ltd v Soon Douglas (Pte) Ltd

CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
Judgment Date10 September 2012
Docket NumberSuit No58 of 2011
Date10 September 2012

High Court

Quentin LohJ

Suit No58 of 2011

Kay Lim Construction & Trading Pte Ltd
Soon Douglas (Pte) Ltd and another

Richard Tan, Diana Xie and Chia Aileen (Tan Chin Hoe & Co) for the plaintiff

Michael Eu and Pak Waltan (United Legal Alliance LLC) for the first defendant

Leong Kit Ying Melissa (Genesis Law Corporation) for the second defendant.

Addax Ltd v Arcadia Petroleum Ltd [2000] 1 Lloyd's Rep 493 (refd)

Ailsa Craig Fishing Co Ltd v Malvern Fishing Co Ltd [1983] 1 WLR 964 (refd)

British Sugar plc v NEI Power Projects (1997) 87 BLR 42 (refd)

CLAAS Medical Centre Pte Ltd v Ng Boon Ching [2010] 2 SLR 386 (refd)

Co-operative Retail Services Ltd v Taylor Young Partnership Ltd [2002] 1 WLR 1419 (folld)

Croudace Construction Ltd v Cawoods Concrete Products Ltd [1978] 2 Lloyd's Rep 55 (refd)

Deepak Fertilisers and Petrochemicals Corp v ICI Chemicals & Polymers Ltd [1999] 1 Lloyd's Rep 387 (refd)

E E Caledonia Ltd v Orbit Valve Co Europe [1994] 1 WLR 221 (refd)

Econ Piling Pte Ltd v Shanghai Tunnel Engineering Co Ltd [2011] 1 SLR 246 (refd)

Emjay Enterprises Pte Ltd v Skylift Consolidator (Pte) Ltd [2006] 2 SLR (R) 268; [2006] 2 SLR 268 (refd)

Forefront Medical Technology (Pte) Ltd v Modern-Pak Pte Ltd [2006] 1 SLR (R) 927; [2006] 1 SLR 927 (refd)

Fraser v BNFurman (Productions) Ltd [1967] 1 WLR 898 (refd)

Hadley v Baxendale (1854) 9 Exch 341; 156 ER 145 (refd)

Homburg Houtimport BV v Agrosin Pte Ltd [2004] 1 AC 715 (refd)

Hong Realty Pte Ltd v Chua Keng Mong [1994] 2 SLR (R) 90; [1994] 3 SLR 819 (refd)

Hotel Services Ltd v Hilton International Hotels (UK) Ltd [2000] BLR 235 (refd)

Kenwell & Co Pte Ltd v Southern Ocean Shipbuilding Co Pte Ltd [1998] 2 SLR (R) 583; [1999] 1 SLR 214 (refd)

Man Financial (S) Pte Ltd v Wong Bark Chuan David [2008] 1 SLR (R) 663; [2008] 1 SLR 663 (folld)

Millar's Machinery Co Ltd v David Way & Son (1935) 40 Com Cas 204 (refd)

Ng Giap Hon v Westcomb Securities Pte Ltd [2009] 3 SLR (R) 518; [2009] 3 SLR 518 (folld)

Pegler Ltd v Wang (UK) Ltd [2000] BLR 218 (refd)

Photo Production Ltd v Securicor Transport Ltd [1980] AC 827 (refd)

Saint Line Ltd v Richardsons, Westgarth & Co Ltd [1940] 2 KB 99 (refd)

Singapore Telecommunications Ltd v Starhub Cable Vision Ltd [2006] 2 SLR (R) 195; [2006] 2 SLR 195 (refd)

Smith v South Wales Switchgear Co Ltd [1978] 1 WLR 165 (refd)

Wisma Development Pte Ltd v Sing - The Disc Shop Pte Ltd [1994] 1 SLR (R) 749; [1994] 3 SLR 295 (folld)

Rules of Court (Cap 322, R 5, 2006 Rev Ed) O 16 r 1, O 19

Unfair Contract Terms Act (Cap 396, 1994 Rev Ed) ss 3 (2) (a) , 11 (1) (consd) ;ss 3, 4

Workplace Safety and Health Act (Cap 354 A, 2009 Rev Ed) ss 12 (1) , 15 (3) , 48 (1) (b)

Workplace Safety and Health (Operation of Cranes) Regulations (S 515/2011)

Contract — Contractual terms — Clause imposing obligation on hirer to procure insurance in joint names of hirer and hiree — Whether insurance clause precluded claims against hiree for breach of contract — Whether hirer had breached insurance clause

Contract — Contractual terms — Exclusion clauses — Exemption clause excluding liability for direct and consequential loss suffered by hirer arising from downtime, stoppage of work or compliance with order from judicial or governmental authority or by reason of any loss suffered by any person — Whether exemption clause covered any loss suffered by hirer — Whether exemption clause covered losses attributable to ‘delay’

Contract — Contractual terms — Exclusion clauses — Indemnity clause imposing obligation on hirer to indemnify hiree from losses suffered by ‘any person’— Whether indemnity clause should be construed as applying to losses suffered by hirer

Contract — Contractual terms — Implied terms — Rental agreement for tower cranes containing obligation on hiree to provide labour to dismantle cranes — Whether terms that hiree was obliged to provide trained and skilled labour and ensure that dismantling was done in proper and skilled manner should be implied — Whether implied terms were breached

Contract — Contractual terms — Unfair Contract Terms Act (Cap 396, 1994 Rev Ed) (‘UCTA’) — Whether s 3 UCTA applied to exemption clause — Whether exemption clause was reasonable — Section 3 Unfair Contract Terms Act (Cap 396, 1994 Rev Ed)

Contract — Illegality and public policy — Indemnity clause imposing obligation on hirer to indemnify hiree from all ‘loss actions claims demands proceedings (whether criminal or civil)’— Whether this was void for illegality — Whether it was possible to sever illegal portion of clause

The plaintiff (‘Kay Lim’) hired seven tower cranes from the first defendant (‘Soon Douglas’) for use at the worksite of a Housing & Development Board (‘HDB’) construction project. Under the rental agreement (‘the Rental Agreement’), the tower cranes were to be delivered, erected and dismantled by Soon Douglas. Soon Douglas subcontracted the erection and dismantling of the tower cranes to the second defendant (‘Chit Guan’).

A tower crane collapsed when it was being dismantled by a team of workers from Chit Guan, causing the death of one worker and injuring three others. An investigation conducted by the Ministry of Manpower established that the collapse was caused by the failure of Chit Guan's team of workers to adhere to the safe and proper method of jacking down a tower crane.

Kay Lim brought a claim against Soon Douglas for breach of implied terms of the Rental Agreement that Soon Douglas would provide properly skilled and qualified labour and ensure that the tower cranes would be dismantled in a skilful and proper manner in accordance with proper operating instructions. Soon Douglas denied the existence of the implied terms; alternatively, it was entitled to rely on the insurance, exemption and indemnity clauses in the Rental Agreement to exclude its liability to Kay Lim.

Held, allowing the claim:

(1) The Rental Agreement expressly provided that Soon Douglas was responsible for providing labour to dismantle the tower cranes. The parties knew that they carried on their businesses within the statutory and regulatory regimes in Singapore in relation to work sites and safety and the express contractual provisions indicated that the parties had contracted on the implicit assumption that compliance with the relevant regulatory regimes was an underlying basis of their contract. Applying the ‘business efficacy’ and ‘officious bystander’ tests within the context of the nature of the contract and the factual circumstances, it was self-evident that the terms contended for by Kay Lim should be implied: at [18] and [22] to [24].

(2) The implied terms did not impose an onerous obligation on Soon Douglas to guarantee the performance of their subcontractors. Kay Lim was not aware at all material times that Soon Douglas had subcontracted the dismantling works to Chit Guan and Soon Douglas could not evade its contractual obligations by subcontracting out its work. The obligation to dismantle the tower crane was an obligation of performance undertaken by Soon Douglas as the immediate contracting party: at [26] to [28].

(3) On the facts, Soon Douglas had breached the implied terms: at [30] and [31].

(4) The indemnity clause in the Rental Agreement provided that Kay Lim would indemnify Soon Douglas against ‘all loss actions claims demands proceedings (whether criminal and civil)’. It was against public policy for a party to indemnify another against the consequences of a crime. However, the entire clause was not void for illegality as the offending portion of the clause could be severed. The overarching question for the court in deciding whether the doctrine of severance might apply was whether the nature and degree of illegality tainted the entire clause or contract such that it rendered it contrary to public policy to enforce even the unobjectionable portion. The potential illegality contemplated in the indemnity clause was not of such extreme or virulent form so as to preclude the operation of the doctrine of severance, and the ‘blue pencil’ test might be readily applied to strike out the offending phrase: at [33], [34], [37] and [38].

(5) Indemnity and exclusion clauses were to be construed strictly and the contra proferentum rule applied to such clauses. The indemnity clause obliged Kay Lim to indemnify Soon Douglas against ‘any loss injury or damage suffered by any person from the ... dismantling’ of the tower cranes. On a proper construction of the indemnity clause, the phrase ‘any person’ presupposed that the loss was suffered by a third party, and the indemnity clause did not cover claims arising out of losses suffered by Kay Lim as a result of Soon Douglas's breach of contract: at [40], [41], [44] and [45].

(6) The insurance clause in the Rental Agreement obliged Kay Lim to insure both parties as joint assureds against ‘all liability ... arising directly or indirectly out of the use, possession or operation’ of the tower cranes. It was a matter of construction in each case whether the presence of an obligation to insure in a contract evinced the intention to relieve the other party from liability as the loss was to be covered solely by the insurance. The obligation to insure in the present case was for Kay Lim to take out the usual Contractor's All Risk and Public Liability (‘CAR/PL’) policy available for construction contracts of this nature. It could not be construed as precluding Kay Lim from bringing claims against Soon Douglas for breach of the Rental Agreement: at [48] and [51].

(7) The obligation to insure also did not extend to the coverage of Soon Douglas's risks during the dismantling or removal of the Tower Cranes. Kay Lim had not breached the insurance clause as it had obtained a standard CAR/PL policy that covered Soon Douglas as its subcontractor for the HDB project: at [52] and [55].

(8) The exemption clause...

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5 cases
  • Transocean Offshore International Ventures Ltd v
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 21 June 2013
    ...2 SLR 268 (refd) Hadley v Baxendale (1854) 9 Exch 341; 156 ER 145 (refd) Kay Lim Construction & Trading Pte Ltd v Soon Douglas (Pte) Ltd [2013] 1 SLR 1 (refd) Lee Tat Development Pte Ltd v MCST Plan No 301 [2005] 3 SLR (R) 157; [2005] 3 SLR 157 (refd) MFM Restaurants Pte Ltd v Fish & Co Res......
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    ...cases where this principle was applied include BR Energy at [149] and Kay Lim Construction & Trading Pte Ltd v Soon Douglas (Pte) Ltd [2013] 1 SLR 1 at [45] per Quentin Loh J. It is, in essence, an application of the oft-cited canon of construction that a contract will be interpreted, so fa......
  • Creative Technology Ltd and another v Huawei International Pte Ltd
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    • High Court (Singapore)
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    ...Cable Vision Ltd [2006] 2 SLR(R) 195 (at [59]-[62]) and the High Court in Kay Lim Construction & Trading Pte Ltd v Soon Douglas (Pte) Ltd [2013] 1 SLR 1 at [70]. I agree with this line of authorities and find that they also apply to Art 15.2. Even on a plain reading of Art 15.2, all its lim......
  • Holland Leedon Pte Ltd (in liquidation) v C & P Transport Pte Ltd
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    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 31 December 2013
    ...facto to the conclusion that the terms are reasonable (see Kay Lim Construction & Trading Pte Ltd v Soon Douglas (Pte) Ltd and another [2013] 1 SLR 1 at [93]). In the present case, where the Defendant is seeking to rely on terms of the contract to restrict liability to a specified amount of......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
2 books & journal articles
  • Contract Law
    • Singapore
    • Singapore Academy of Law Annual Review Nbr. 2012, December 2012
    • 1 December 2012
    ...2 SLR(R) 268 (‘Emjay Enterprises’) – was raised in a few cases in 2012. In Kay Lim Construction & Trading Pte Ltd v Soon Douglas (Pte) Ltd[2013] 1 SLR 1 (‘Kay Lim Construction & Trading’), the plaintiff hired tower cranes from the first defendant, which had subcontracted the erection and di......
  • Insurance Law
    • Singapore
    • Singapore Academy of Law Annual Review Nbr. 2020, December 2020
    • 1 December 2020
    ...125 at [44]. 11 [2007] 1 WLR 797. 12 See para 19.16 above. 13 See also Kay Lim Construction & Trading Pte Ltd v Soon Douglas (Pte) Ltd [2013] 1 SLR 1; QBE Insurance (International) Ltd v USL Asia Pacific Pte Ltd [2012] SGDC 84; and HBZ International Exchange (S) Pte Ltd v L'Union des Assura......

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