An electrical supplies company suffered a double blow when the High Court ruled it was liable for the fire that caused $1.6 million worth of damage to its neighbour and its insurers were not obliged to underwrite its payout.
The court found the blaze started on the premises of Grace Electrical Engineering in Kallang Way in the early hours of Sept 6, 2012 - contrary to its expert's claims.
" All in all,the environmental conditions and circumstances under which the fire originated and spread created an inference of negligence on the part of (Grace), its servant or agent, and (Grace) had not shown it was not negligent," said Justice Belinda Ang, in judgment grounds released last Friday.
Te Deum Engineering, which deals in cables and electrical and plumbing products and occupied the adjoining factory unit, had sued Grace for negligence following the fire that spread to its premises. Te Deum sought $1,584,091 in losses, including $960,000 for goods as well as $157,000 for the rent it was forced to pay for alternative premises.
Grace, which used the premises to test electrical cables and equipment as well as repack cables, denied causing the fire, alleging the fire started at Te Deum, and counterclaimed for its own loss and damage totalling $896,895.
It also emerged Grace had used the premises to house its foreign workers and was slapped with summonses for violating fire safety regulations. Following Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) probes, Grace was convicted and fined $17,000 after pleading guilty to five charges under the Fire Safety Act in 2013, which included converting part of the premises for accommodation use without SCDF approval. Three other charges were taken into consideration.
Investigators separately appointed by insurers for both parties and the SCDF investigations all concluded the fire started in Unit 141, occupied by Grace. But in March last year, Grace engaged a fire expert who opined that all three reports were wrong and the fire started in Unit 143, used by Te Deum.
Tan Kok Quan Partnership lawyer Marina Chin argued for Te Deum that Grace's claim was " simply an afterthought" and a "last- ditch attempt to avoid liability".
Grace, defended by Unilegal lawyer Ranvir Kumar Singh, argued the fire either started on Te Deum's premises or was due to a cause that was unknown or accidental.
The judge cast doubts on the "theory" of Grace's expert and found "no difficulty" accepting SCDF's testimony that the fire started in Unit 141. She said Grace's counterclaim had "no merit" and ordered costs.
Separately, insurers for Grace, represented by lawyer Ramasamy Chettiar, objected to paying out for the firm's losses as Grace did not follow the conditions for the insurance payout to kick in.
Grace countered that this was wrongful and EQ Insurance was liable to pay up to $1 million under the policy for its losses. Justice Ang found that Grace had breached the insurance policy condition in not complying with the Fire Safety Act, which meant EQ was not liable to indemnify Grace for its losses.