Woman who fell into open manhole sues PUB for S$5 million in ‘unprecedented case’

Singapore
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SINGAPORE: A woman who fell into an open manhole on a pedestrian path and injured herself five years ago took to court on Monday (Nov 23) to sue PUB for damages of S$5 million.

Ms Chan Hui Peng, 47, was walking along Simon Road at 10.30am on Dec 1, 2015, when she fell 2m into an open manhole at the intersection with Upper Serangoon Road.

The former accountant sustained multiple injuries including a fractured ankle, multiple bruises and abrasions in 11 areas of her body and spinal disc bulges.

As a result, she is unable to run and suffers an altered gait, scars over her limbs and intermittent lower back pain. She is also unable to sit for more than an hour without experiencing neck pain and suffers nerve damage which impedes the use of her right hand in some activities.

In her affidavit, she said she experiences post-traumatic headaches and has suffered psychiatric injuries such as anxiety and panic attacks. She also claimed to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, major depressive disorder and schizophrenia.

She developed a fear and phobia of walking into holes and had related nightmares, and was unable to get a job in the accounting industry as she needed to take medical leave often.

Her lawyers from LegalStandard LLP said PUB has accepted 70 per cent liability for the accident, but a dispute remains over the physical injuries, medical expenses to treat these, as well as future treatment and related expenses.

Initially, a figure of S$20 million was listed in court documents. In response, PUB’s lawyers from WhiteFern LLC said Ms Chan “has made a mountain out of a molehill and has seized the opportunity to capitalise on the injuries she allegedly sustained because of the accident”.

Ms Chan later amended the figure to S$5 million, which includes damages for pain and suffering for her injuries, cost of future medical expenses, loss of opportunity to have a child, prospective costs of a caregiver and loss of earning capacity and future earnings.

SHE TRIED TO BARGE THROUGH: PUB

According to PUB’s defence, there were three PUB officers inspecting an open manhole along the pedestrian path on the day of the incident.

“As she approached the open manhole, she saw the three officers and attempted to barge through the same instead of walking around them and the open manhole, resulting in her fall into the manhole,” said PUB’s lawyers.

Ms Chan said in her affidavit that she was keeping an attentive lookout for where she was going and was not using her handphone, as PUB alleges.

She was not in a rush and was on the way to buy bird’s nest on a sunny morning with “glaringly bright” sunlight, said Ms Chan.

She said the manhole was “enveloped in a shadow created by the overcast tree foliage”, and that she saw only “a big patch of dark shadows” in the area and did not see or expect that the manhole would be open.

The three PUB officers were in civilian attire and were not in safety gear, and there were no warning notices or barricades, said Ms Chan.

“As the PUB officers were not looking around or standing in a formation that would block off the entire Kovan footpath, there was nothing to put me on notice that there was danger up ahead or that I should avoid walking along the Kovan footpath.”

Ms Chan claimed that the officers were aware that she was approaching, but failed to warn her of any danger, instead continuing their conversation.

“Just as my outstretched arm was about to make contact with the PUB officers, I suddenly found myself falling and plunging straight down,” said Ms Chan. 

“My outstretched arm hit the pavement and I instinctively clung onto the ground in front of the manhole with both arms and hands.”

She fell into the hole, landing on her feet then her buttocks, and felt jolts to her spine and shoulders with pain in various parts of her body.

PLAINTIFF DISHONEST, CLAIMS PUB

In its defence opening statement, PUB’s lawyers said it denies the causation and diagnosis of various alleged injuries and the extent of Ms Chan’s residual disabilities.

PUB said that Ms Chan “has been dishonest in formulating her claim”, and the board’s lawyers said this is an unprecedented case.

This is the first time the court will have to decide on whether a diagnosis of schizophrenia, if proven, is caused by the allegations, and decide if Ms Chan can claim for schizophrenia.

“It is most regrettable that (Ms Chan) has not come to court with clean hands and has concocted evidence with a hope of obtaining a windfall,” said PUB’s lawyers.

“Whilst this accident is indeed unfortunate, the defendant will submit that the plaintiff had been dishonest. We will seek this honourable court to make a just and fair award in light of this and the evidence to be adduced.”

The trial continues.

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