Khoo Ting Hong and Another v Sim Guan Soon and Another

CourtFederal Court (Singapore)
JudgeChoor Singh J
Judgment Date07 February 1969
Neutral Citation[1969] SGFC 3
Citation[1969] SGFC 3
Defendant CounselHE Cashin (Murphy & Dunbar)
Plaintiff CounselChao Hick Tin (State Counsel)
Published date19 September 2003
Docket NumberCivil Appeal No Y43 of 1968
Date07 February 1969
Subject MatterOccupier’s liability,Trespasser at dumping ground run over and killed by reversing lorry,Tort,Duty of care,Whether lorry driver and occupiers of dumping ground liable,Whether defendant lorry driver knew that it would be extremely likely that deceased would be in the path of reversing lorry

This is an appeal from a judgment of the High Court in which it was held that the plaintiffs, as administrators of the estate of one Lim Siew Liang, deceased, are entitled to recover damages from the defendants for the deceased`s loss of expectation of life.

The deceased was a poor old woman and one day when she was looking over some rubbish dump in Kolam Ayer Lane she was run into and killed by a lorry driven by the first defendant which was then reversing towards the said rubbish dump.
It was alleged at the trial that the first defendant did not look to the rear to ensure that it was safe for him to reverse the lorry at the time of the accident. The defendants alleged that the deceased was a trespasser on the dumping ground; that she entered it at her own risk and that they owed no duty to take reasonable care for her protection. The trial judge held that `the defendants owed a duty of care to the deceased and the act of the first defendant in reversing without looking to make sure that the deceased was not behind the lorry was negligence on his part`. The trial judge held further that the deceased was aware that lorries of the Public Health Department were going in and out of the dumping ground; that she knew that these lorries reverse to get to the face tip to tip the refuse; that she failed to keep a proper lookout; that she failed to observe that the lorry was reversing and that she failed to move to a safe spot to avoid the accident. The trial judge assessed the degree of contributory negligence on the part of the deceased at 50%. Damages having been agreed between the parties at $4,600, judgment was entered for the plaintiffs in the sum of $2,300. It is against this judgment that the defendants now appeal.

It is not in dispute that the deceased was a trespasser at the rubbish dump and the first question which arises for determination in this appeal is what duty, if any, does an occupier of premises owe to a trespasser.

There is a considerable body of authority on the duty to trespassers.
There is no duty, save only that of not inflicting malicious injury. Hamilton LJ stated the rule of the English common law with great clarity in Latham v Richard Johnson & Nephew Ltd [1911-13] All ER Rep 117 at p 124:

The owner of the property is under a duty not to injure the trespasser wilfully; `not to do` a wilful act in reckless disregard of ordinary humanity towards him; but otherwise a man trespasses at his own risk.

This statement of the law received the full approval of the House of Lords in Robert Addie & Sons (Collieries) Ltd v Dumbreck [1929] AC 358.
Lord Hailsham, in his speech observed, at p 365:

The trespasser comes on to the premises at his own risk. An occupier is in such a case liable only where the injury is due to some wilful act involving something more than the absence of reasonable care. There must be some act done with the deliberate intention of doing harm to the trespasser, or at least some act done with reckless disregard of the presence of the trespasser.

The principle was reaffirmed by the House of Lords as recently as 1952 in Edwards v Railway Executive [1952] AC 737 where Lord Goddard clarified the law further when he said, at p 747:

A man can only act recklessly with regard to the safety of another if he knows of, or has reason to believe in, the presence of the other.

Turning to the law as laid down by the Privy Council, we find the same principle enunciated in Grand Trunk Railway Co of Canada v Barnett [1911] AC 361 where the plaintiff was injured by a collision which took place on the appellants` railway line.
It was held that the plaintiff could not recover damages because he was a trespasser on the train. Lord Robson in giving the decision of the Board stated, at p 369:

The case must therefore be taken on the footing that the respondent was a trespasser, and the question is, what under those circumstances are his rights against the appellant company? ... The railway company was undoubtedly under a duty to

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