Case Update: Employee’s Wife Succeeds in Claim in a Case of Death During Employment


Summary by Yeo Ming Ze & Edited by Ronald JJ Wong

FACTS

This case concerns the sudden death of an engineer during the course of his work as a result of a brain aneurysm. On 3 March 2016, the sole breadwinner of the family was found unconscious in the toilet of his office building. At that time of the incident, he was employed as a service engineer.

Prior to his death, the main scope of the employee’s work at the company was to board vessels to do installation, maintenance and troubleshooting work, all of which were manual work. His job scope required him to carry vessel parts of up to 15kg per piece. It was physically demanding and at times, strenuous, as installation may require him to access various locations of the vessel.

On the day of the incident, however, he was tasked to stay in office to prepare the PowerPoint training slides for a three-week work trip in Indonesia and it was the first time he was tasked to conduct training overseas and to prepare the training materials.

Following his death, his wife (the “Claimant”) was left to fend for her young daughter and her son who was yet to be born. Initially, the Claimant was unable to work due to her pregnancy. She had been a homemaker throughout the marriage and had difficulties finding a job, even after her pregnancy. Subsequently, she took security guard classes to be a security guard. She still struggles to provide for her family. Her state of expenses left her no room to save money for her children’s future.

Whilst the Ministry of Manpower estimated that compensatory damages of up to $204,000 could be awarded to the Claimant’s family, his employer and its insurance firm (the “Respondents”) submitted that there should be no payment as the injury was not sustained through the course of employment.

 

ISSUES

To succeed in the claim, it had to be shown that the rupture in the brain aneurysm when the employee was at work was caused by an “accident” for the purposes of section 3(1) of WICA.

It also had to be shown that the “accident” arose as a result of his employment. Section 3(6) of WICA raises a presumption that “an accident arising in the course of an employee’s employment shall be deemed, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, to have arisen out of that employment”.

If the Respondents can rebut the presumption and establish that the employee’s death did not arise out of his employment, the Claimant would not be allowed to claim compensation.

 

HOLDING

The Assistant Commissioner for Labour (“ACL”), considering all the evidence, was of the opinion that an accident under section 3(1) of WICA had occurred. Citing the law as enunciated in Pang Chew Kim (next of kin of Poon Wai Tong, deceased) v Wartsila Singapore Pte Ltd and another [2011] SGHC 194, he opined that a liberal interpretation should be applied given that the Act was a piece of social legislation and suggested that “accident” should be interpreted to mean something to the effect of “incident”, that is, “an instance of something happening”.

Importantly, the ACL still had to decide if the accident was one that occurred in the course of employment. To this end, he held in the affirmative as such determination was one that turned on common sense as in the case of Kee Yau Chong v S H Interdeco Pte Ltd [2014] 1 SLR 189 (HC). Importantly, he relied on the evidence provided by the co-workers that the deceased employee had been preparing for an overseas work assignment prior to the accident whereby he exclaimed that he was exhausted after working on board a vessel on 1 March 2018. Moreover, his co-workers gave evidence that the preparation of the PowerPoint slides was difficult for the deceased.

Given that the accident occurred during the course of employment, it fell on the Respondents to rebut the presumption that it arose as a result of his employment. The ACL in this case referred to the case of NTUC Income Insurance Co-operative Ltd and Another v Next of kin of Narayasamy s/o Ramasamy, deceased [2006] 4 SLR 507 and had held that section 3(6) was a provision dealing with causation.

For this causation element, it was sufficient to show that the accident was the operating or contributory cause of the injury. It need not be the sole or dominant cause of injury. Also, it did not matter whether the exertion was one that was beyond what the deceased was accustomed to or if he had any pre-existing medical condition. What was important was that something in fact transpired in the course of his work which made the injury occur as it did, whatever might have been the deceased’s state of health. 

The ACL was convinced that the causation element was satisfied on the evidence. First, the co-workers had corroborated that the employee had indeed complained of a headache on 2 March when he was staying back late at work. Second, the ACL accepted expert medical evidence that the headache experienced by the deceased on 2 March was related to his rupture on 3 March. Third, keeping in mind the fact that the preparation of PowerPoint slides was difficult for the employee, and it occurred just before he had suffered subarachnoid haemorrhage, it could very well have been the straw which broke the camel’s back. The evidence thus pointed to the deceased employee’s accident arising as a result of his employment.

The ACL thus ordered in favour of the Claimant. Our Managing Director Mr. Lee Ee Yang successfully represented the Claimant in this matter.

If you would like to discuss the impact of this case on you or your business, please contact:

Lee Ee Yang

Managing Director

Tel: +65 9859 4333

eeyang.lee@covenantchambers.com


Dispute Resolution