When Bridges Collapse: Personal Injury in Singapore

Photo by: The Straits Times


Accidents happen, but unfortunately, you never know when and where is might occur. Recent events in Singapore have highlighted the need for people to know their rights when accidents occur. Even in Singapore’s well-regulated construction sector, accidents do occur from time to time.


Just on Friday, 14th July, an unfortunate construction accident caused a bridge over the Pan Island Expressway to collapse. Ten (10) workers – who were employed by subcontractors and were on top of the structure before it collapsed – were injured and one died. To many, this brings back memories of the 2004 Nicholl Highway cave-in, where ground movements were ignored during construction of a tunnel forming part of the MRT’s Circle Line, leading to the deaths of four workers.


Workplace accidents not only cause pain and suffering for you and your loved ones, but they also can prevent you from ever working again, which can cause you to lose income. Knowing your rights when you have been injured in the workplace can make all the difference between a fighting a lengthy legal battle and receiving the compensation that you deserve.


I Have Been Injured In A Workplace Accident. What Can I Do Now?

If you have been injured in an accident at your workplace, you are entitled to compensation under Singapore law. There are several routes to obtain compensation, and importantly, legal action is not always required.


Obtaining Compensation For Personal Injury In Singapore

The two main options are either to file a claim with the Ministry of Manpower under the Work Injury Compensation Act (WICA) or to commence a lawsuit against your employer in a civil action.


Work Injury Compensation Act in Singapore

The WICA was created to make the process of claiming compensation for workplace injuries easier. If you decide to pursue your claim through this method, you may not need a lawyer to represent you, and you may be able to obtain compensation in as little as two to four months, depending on how fast the doctor certifies that your injury has stabilised and the number of parties involved (such as employer, main-contractors and insurers).


However, you must submit your application within one year, and there are limits to the maximum amount of compensation as this is calculated based on a set formula.


Compensation Through A Civil Suit

It is also possible to file a civil suit against your employer. Claiming compensation through a Civil Suit is a longer and more expensive process than claiming via the WICA and unlike WICA claims, requires legal representation.


However, there are no limits on the amount of compensation that you can claim through a civil suit. There is also a much longer time limit for filing a civil suit than for making a claim under the WICA. The time limit for a personal injury case is usually three years from the date that symptoms emerge. Your lawyer can advise you on which option is best for your needs.


Can I Claim Compensation For Personal Injury Through WICA And A Civil Suit At The Same Time?

No. You cannot claim compensation through both methods at the same time and must choose one option or the other.


Once you have obtained compensation through one method, you cannot apply through the other method. However, if the claims process is not completed, you could, for example, you could withdraw a civil claim to pursue a claim through the WICA, or withdraw a WICA to pursue a civil claim.


If you wish to withdraw a WICA claim, you can do so at any time before you are issued a notice of assessment. If you have already been issued with a notice of assessment, you can still withdraw the claim within 14 days from the date of service if there are no objections or 28 days, if there are objections.


Can I still claim compensation for Personal Injury if I was sent back to my home country after the accident?

If your employer cancelled your work pass before a claim under the WICA was completed, you should contact the Ministry of Manpower as your employer may be guilty of a criminal offence.


If you are filing a Civil Claim, you may have difficulty in obtaining the documents and other information required to build your case if you have returned to your home country. Fortunately, you can engage a Singapore-based lawyer to assist you in obtaining this information by providing him or her with power of attorney.


Bear in mind that if you have returned to your home country permanently, the compensation that you receive for lost wages may be calculated based on your wages in your home country.


If you are in such a situation, it is recommended that you seek legal advice as soon as possible.


Can I Still Claim Compensation For Personal Injury If I Was Injured Away From My Workplace?

Yes. Depending on the circumstances, it may be possible to claim compensation from your employer for a work-related accident which happened away from your workplace.


When Can I Claim Compensation For Personal Injury Under The WICA?
You can claim under WICA:
• if you were injured in an accident which arose out of and in the course of employment;
• if you were injured while on an overseas assignment while working for a Singapore-based employer;
• if you contracted an Occupational disease, such as asbestosis or mesothelioma; or
• if you were injured as a result of exposure to biological or chemical agents at work.


Claims can be made up to one year after the accident takes place. You do not have to engage a lawyer to file a WICA claim as claims are handled by the Ministry of Manpower. The process lasts three to six months, though some injuries may require more time to stabilise before a doctor can assess for personal injury.


Who Is Covered By The WICA?

The WICA covers all local and foreign employees who are under a contract of service or contract of apprenticeship in Singapore. This does not include domestic workers or uniformed personnel, such as members of the Singapore Armed Forces, Police Force, or Prison Service.


What Is A Contract Of Service?

A contract of service is one which defines an employer-employee relationship. It must contain certain key terms, including basic salary, working hours, and job scope, duties, and responsibilities. You may not have a contract of service if you are self-employed or work as an independent contractor. In these cases, you will not be covered by the WICA.


Coverage under the WICA is not affected by salary, age, or nationality. You also remain eligible for compensation even if you stop working for your employer and/or your work permit is cancelled, or the accident occurred while you were working on an assignment overseas.


Dependents of an employee who died as a result of a workplace accident may also make a claim on behalf of the employee.


What Can I Claim For Under The WICA?

Under the WICA, you or your dependents can claim medical leave wages, medical expenses and lump-sum compensation for permanent incapacity or death. For more information on how this compensation is calculated, please consult the Ministry of Manpower’s website: <http://www.mom.gov.sg/workplace-safety-and-health/work-injury-compensation/types-of-compensation>


How Do I Make A Claim Under The WICA?

The process of claiming compensation under the WICA is different depending on whether your injury is non-permanent or permanent.


Non-Permanent Injury

If the injury is not permanent, you should seek medical treatment and report the accident to your employer as soon as possible. Your employer will pay your medical leave wages and repay you for any medical expenses that you have already paid.


Though this is not necessary, you may also make an incident report with the Ministry of Manpower.


You should give your medical certificate (MC) and original medical bills to your employer so you can receive medical leave wages and repayment for your medical expenses. You should also keep a photocopy of these documents for your records. If your employer refuses to pay, you should contact the Ministry of Manpower.


Permanent Injury

If the injury is permanent, you must make a claim within one year, though the Ministry of Manpower may consider late applications in exceptional circumstances.


You will need to report the injury to your employer as soon as possible. Your employer will report the accident to the Ministry of Manpower, who will send you a claim application form. After you receive this form, you will have to decide whether to make a claim under the WICA. This is an important decision, and it is recommended that you seek legal advice so that you are aware of all of your options.


If you decide to do so, the Ministry will process the claim. You will need to go for a medical assessment to determine the extent of your incapacity. Once this is complete, you will receive a notice of the assessment as well as the compensation amount.


You are still eligible for compensation even if you do not work for your employer anymore or if your work pass has been cancelled. If you are a Work Permit holder, your employer must also provide you with housing or food while the claim process is ongoing. You should contact the Ministry if your employer denies you food or housing or if your employer tries to send you home before your claim is settled.


Can My Employer Dispute My Claim Under The WICA?

Yes. There are two ways in which your employer could dispute a claim for compensation under the WICA.


He or she could object to a permanent incapacity assessment given by a hospital or clinic. In this case, your injury would be reassessed by a panel appointed by the Work Injury Compensation Medical Board, comprise two senior consultants from restructured hospitals.


Alternatively, your employer may dispute a fact of your case, such as whether the injury was work-related, or whether the average monthly earnings stated in your application are correct.


How Long Will It Take For Me To Obtain My Compensation?

The claims process lasts for two to four months. If you are successful, your employer will have 21 days to pay the compensation. If he or she refuses to pay, this constitutes an offence punishable with a fine of up to S$10,000 or up to 12 months’ imprisonment.


When Can I File A Civil Claim For A Workplace Injury?

You can file a civil claim against your employer if you are injured in the course of your employment, and you can prove that the injury was caused by the employer’s negligence – that is, his or her failure to follow reasonable standards of care.


What about Claims for negligence?

To succeed in a claim for negligence, some essential elements must be proved.
Firstly, you must be able to prove that your employer owed you a duty of care, meaning that he or she had a legal responsibility to ensure your safety.


This is fairly easy to prove in an employment context because, by law, employers have a duty to take reasonable care to ensure the safety of their employees. This duty also includes providing competent staff, adequate materials, a proper system of work, and reasonable supervision.


Secondly, you must prove that the employer breached the standard of care expected of him or her, and thirdly, that this breach caused you damage. This damage could include physical injury and psychiatric harm, as well as economic loss, such as loss of earnings.


Fourthly, the loss as a result of the employer’s breach of his or her duty of care must also not be too remote. In other words, the damage caused to you must have been reasonably foreseeable by the employer.


Finally, the employer may be able to raise a defence to your claim. This defence may either reduce the amount of damages that he must pay in compensation or eliminate the claim. For example, if the employer successfully argues that the accident was caused in part by your contributory negligence – in other words, if you were partly responsible for the accident – then the damages that the employer must pay may be reduced by a certain percentage to reflect your partial responsibility.


Similarly, if the employer can prove to the court that you were doing something illegal when the accident happened, then your claim may be dismissed completely.


How Much Money Will I Receive If My Civil Suit Is Successful?

If your case is successful, the amount of money that you will receive in damages depends on the nature of your injury and the damage that it causes.


The most common type of damages is compensatory damages, which are intended to restore the employee to the position that he or she would be in if he or she had not been injured. This means that the Court may require the employer to pay for the employee’s medical costs and lost wages, in addition to compensation for pain and suffering, loss of amenities, and mental distress.


When deciding on the right amount of compensation for a personal injury, the Court will take into account guidelines laid down in similar earlier cases. Many of these guidelines are published in the Subordinate Courts’ Guidelines for the Assessment of General Damages in Personal Injury Cases. For example, the guideline sum in compensation for loss of a little finger is about S$4,000.00 while the sum for loss of a thumb is about S$25,000.00.


How Long Will It Take To File A Civil Claim?

Depending on your case, the process of filing a civil suit will last anywhere between 14 weeks and 2 years. During this time, you will need to gather evidence, consult with your employer’s lawyers, and attend pre-trial conferences.


Will My Damages Be Reduced If I Have Received An Insurance Payment Or Gifts From A Sympathetic Third Party?

No. Previous cases, such as Hunt v Severs [1994] 2 AC 350, have stated that Courts should not consider insurance payments or gifts from third parties when calculating the amount of damages that the liable party should pay to the innocent party.


How We Can Help

At IRB Law, we understand that accidents happen, but you shouldn’t be the one to suffer when they do. If you are injured in a workplace accident, you need a competent, professional lawyer to fight for you, so that you receive the compensation that you deserve.


We are a team of experienced Personal Injury Lawyers who are passionate about justice and fairness. Our lawyers will be able to guide you through Personal Injury claims at each and every stage of the proceedings. We firmly believe that everyone should be entitled to a second chance and be allowed the opportunity to turn over a new leaf and live life anew.


Should you be in a position where you may need our assistance, please do not hesitate and contact us at Hello@irblaw.com.sg or call us at +65 6589 8913 so that we can advise you on your matter. Our team of experienced Personal Injury lawyers is ready to ensure that you receive the fullest extent of the compensation available to you.


The information contained in this article is provided for general information only and may not reflect current status in relation to applicable law, cases, settlements or judgements. Nothing contained on this website or article is intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be construed as I.R.B Law LLP agreeing to provide legal services to you. You acknowledge and agree that your use of this website shall not create a lawyer-client relationship with I.R.B Law LLP.