Wolero Pte Ltd v Lianne Chia (Lee Kwang Hwee, third party)

CourtMagistrates' Court (Singapore)
JudgeLiu Zeming
Judgment Date29 September 2021
Neutral Citation[2021] SGMC 69
Citation[2021] SGMC 69
Docket NumberMagistrate Court Suit No 13834 of 2019
Hearing Date06 May 2021
Published date06 October 2021
Plaintiff CounselGoh Kim Thong Andrew (De Souza Lim & Goh LLP)
Defendant CounselEllice Kuah Jin Yu (Tan Chin Hoe & Co)
Subject MatterTort,Negligence,Motor Accident,Standard of care,Breach of duty,Evidence,No case to answer
District Judge Liu Zeming:

This is a case involving property damage arising from a road traffic accident (“RTA”). The quantum of damage had largely been agreed between the parties, and the main issue for determination in this trial is liability. 1

The trial took place before me on 6 May 2021. At the close of the Plaintiff’s case, the Defendant made a submission of no case to answer with an undertaking not to call any evidence. Having heard and considered parties’ submissions, I dismissed the Plaintiff’s claim. These are the grounds for my decision.

The Parties

The Plaintiff is in the business of hiring out motor vehicles for private use and is the owner of motor vehicle no. SKU 2502P (the “Plaintiff’s Vehicle”).2

At the material time of the accident, the Plaintiff’s Vehicle was on hire to one Jei Pardomuan Siregar with one Lee Kwang Hwee (“LKH”) nominated as the authorised driver of the Plaintiff’s Vehicle. LKH was the driver of the Plaintiff’s Vehicle when the accident occurred.

The Defendant was the driver of vehicle number SLG 5051R (the “Defendant’s Vehicle”) at the material time of the accident.

The Accident

It is common ground between the parties that there was a collision between the Plaintiff’s Vehicle and the Defendant’s Vehicle on 10 June 2018 at about 1.45am along Fort Road towards Mountbatten, near One Fort Condominium (the “Accident”).3 The circumstances leading up to the Accident as set out in the Defendant’s report to the Traffic Police made on 12 June 2018 (“Defendant’s Police Report”)4 were as follows: On 10 June 2018, the Defendant was driving along the East Coast Parkway (“ECP”). The Defendant was initially travelling along the third lane of the ECP before signalling and filtering to the left lane. As the Defendant was filtering left, the Plaintiff’s Vehicle driven by LKH overtook the Defendant’s Vehicle from the left (the “first encounter”). After the Plaintiff’s Vehicle bypassed the Defendant’s Vehicle, the Defendant completed the lane change to the left and continued towards Fort Road exit. Just before the Fort Road exit, the Defendant noticed that the Plaintiff’s Vehicle had stopped along the chevron markings at the Fort Road exit. As the Defendant’s Vehicle approached the Fort Road exit, the Plaintiff’s Vehicle suddenly swerved in front of the Defendant’s Vehicle and applied its emergency brakes. The Defendant too applied her emergency brakes and managed to stop in time to avoid a collision. After the near-collision, LKH alighted from the Plaintiff’s Vehicle and walked over to confront the Defendant. The Defendant’s Police Report stated that LKH had “gestured wildly” at the Defendant, threatening to report the Defendant to the traffic police. The Defendant ignored LKH. After receiving no response from the Defendant, LKH returned to the Plaintiff’s Vehicle and drove off. The Defendant waited a while to regain her composure, before moving off (the “second encounter”). After exiting into Fort Road, the Defendant’s Vehicle was travelling behind the Plaintiff’s Vehicle on the leftmost lane. Somewhere before the junction of Fort Road and Tanjong Rhu Road, the Defendant saw obstructions ahead and decided to filter out to the right, while the Plaintiff’s Vehicle remained on the leftmost lane. Parties maintained this driving position until just before Fort Gardens, when the Plaintiff’s Vehicle made a lane change to the right and moved to the same lane as the Defendant’s Vehicle, travelling closely behind the Defendant’s Vehicle. As parties approached One Fort Condominium, the Plaintiff’s Vehicle filtered out to the left lane, overtook the Defendant’s Vehicle and “cut just in front of [the Defendant’s Vehicle] before performing another emergency brake”. The Defendant immediately applied emergency brakes but was unable to stop in time. This was the Accident. After the Accident, LKH and the Defendant exchanged particulars and took pictures of the accident scene. The Defendant was later informed by her front passenger that LKH had approached the passenger after the Accident and said “This is to teach your daughter a lesson”.

The account given in the Defendant’s Police Report was not disputed by the Plaintiff. In fact, the Plaintiff confirmed in its Opening Statement that it is “relying on the Defendant’s own account of the accident to establish that she is at least in part liable for the accident”.5

The Plaintiff’s position is perhaps not surprising. LKH is neither a party to nor called as a witness in these proceedings. The Plaintiff’s position is that LKH is not a servant or agent of the Plaintiff6 and the Plaintiff, as a car rental company, otherwise had no personal knowledge of the Accident. Mr Ong Siew Tiong (Iman Abdullah) (“Mr. Ong”), who gave evidence for the Plaintiff, candidly admitted during cross-examination that he was not at the scene of the Accident, and that his evidence as to how the Accident occurred was based on the Defendant’s Police Report, verbal information provided by LKH, as well as Mr. Ong’s inspection of the Plaintiff’s Vehicle at the repair workshop after the Accident. Understandably, therefore, the Plaintiff has not disputed the factual account of the Accident as set out in the Defendant’s Police Report.

For completeness, the Defendant did obtain leave to issue a third party notice against LKH in these proceedings for indemnity and/or contribution.7 However, the third party notice was never served on LKH and the Defendant’s counsel confirmed that the Defendant was proceeding with this trial without the commencement of the third party action against LKH.

The Plaintiff’s Case

Although the Plaintiff accepted the Defendant’s version of the facts as stated in the Defendant’s Police Report, the Plaintiff contended that the Defendant was liable to the Plaintiff for the following reasons: Given the first and second encounters, the Defendant should already be aware that LKH was “angry with her”. Yet, the Defendant “continued driving around and alongside [the Plaintiff’s Vehicle], even overtaking [the Plaintiff’s Vehicle]”, while being “fully cognisant” of the movement of the Plaintiff’s Vehicle around her.8 The Defendant was aware that LKH was trying to overtake the Defendant’s Vehicle just before the Accident.9 The Accident took place amidst slow moving traffic.10 Photographs of the damaged vehicles showed that it was a direct front-to-rear collision – with the Plaintiff’s Vehicle being the front vehicle and the Defendant’s Vehicle being the rear vehicle. This “strongly suggests that the Defendant could have taken evasive action, particularly in slow moving traffic”.11

Relying on Yahya Bin Senari v Gao Lianjuan [2017] SGDC 333, the Plaintiff submitted that, as a matter of law, where an injury has been inflict on the plaintiff and the injury is indivisible, any tortfeasor whose act has been a proximate cause of the injury must compensate for the whole of it.12

The Defendant’s Submission of No Case to Answer

At the conclusion of the Plaintiff’s case, the Defendant submitted that there was no case to answer. In other words, the Defendant took the position that the Plaintiff had not adduced the requisite evidence to establish the legal elements of its claim.

The implication of the Defendant’s submission of no case to answer is clear. In making a submission of no case to answer, the Defendant was legally required to, and did in this case, undertake to call no evidence if it failed. The Plaintiff would succeed if it could establish a prima facie case on each of the essential elements of its claim: see Ma Hongjin v SCP Holdings Pte Ltd [2021] 1 SLR 304 at [32].

The Defendant submitted that the Plaintiff failed to establish a prima facie case, for the following reasons: First, Mr. Ong has admitted during cross-examination that the collision was not caused by the Defendant’s negligence. The Plaintiff therefore failed to meet its case as pleaded in the Statement of Claim. Second, the Plaintiff failed to submit reliable evidence to establish that a front-to-rear collision occurred. Mr. Ong’s evidence was based on the Defendant’s Police Report, information from LKH and his own assumptions. Further, the Plaintiff had chosen not to call LKH as a witness, and no application had been made under Section 22A of the Evidence Act (Cap 97, 1997 Rev Ed) (the “EA”) to admit the police report made by LKH.

The Plaintiff, in response, submitted that it was entitled to rely on the following documents to establish a prima facie case: First, the Plaintiff was entitled to rely on the Defendant’s pleading and the Defendant had, by her own pleadings, taken the position that there was an accident between the two vehicles and it was a front-to-rear collision. In this regard, the Plaintiff’s pointed out that paragraph 3 of the Defence stated that “on 10 June 2018 at about 0145hours, there was a collision between [the Defendant’s Vehicle] and [the Plaintiff’s Vehicle] along For[t] Road towards Mountbatten near or around One Fort Condominium”. Further and more pertinently, the Defendant pleaded at paragraph 7 of the Defence that:

The Plaintiff’s vehicle later on overtook the Defendant’s vehicle from the left most lane and cut into the front of the Defendant’s vehicle again, and also performed an emergency brake. The Defendant followed suit and applied her emergency brakes but she was unable to do so and collided into the rear of the Plaintiff’s vehicle.

(emphasis added)

Second, the Plaintiff was entitled to rely on police reports made by the Defendant and LKH on the Accident, as well as the police sketch plans of the Accident. In this regard, counsel for the Plaintiff relied on Chua Kee Lam (next friend to Chua Peck Seng) v Moksha and another [2009] 3 SLR(R) 1010 where Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin held that documents the authenticity of which was not challenged would form part of the evidence before the court without the need...

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