Judge dismisses worker's injury claims

His employer had seen to his medical bill and extra surgery, but he still sued for more

A judge has dismissed a case by a construction worker who took his employer to court after he caused himself a minor eye injury at work.

In a judgment on Monday, District Judge Chiah Kok Khun called Chinese national Wang Baoshun "wholly opportunistic" for using the accident to try and get more money from his former employer, B19 Technologies. Even though the firm had paid his medical bill, and picked up the tab for additional surgery to fix a childhood eye condition, Mr Wang sued it for compensation 1½ years after the accident.

The 36-year-old from Jiangsu province had been nailing a corrugated metal sheet to a timber plank at a Beach Road construction site in May 2013. The nail he was hammering suddenly broke, and a piece of it flew into his left eye.

Mr Wang went to hospital, where he was diagnosed with a slight corneal abrasion and given seven days' medical leave.

According to a medical report from the Singapore National Eye Centre, the wound healed completely in a matter of days. Mr Wang continued working for B19 for a year.

He later asked for surgery to fix the aphakia in his left eye, a condition in which the lens of the eye is absent. He had had aphakia for 25 years, resulting in poor vision.

B19 Technologies footed the $9,000 bill to implant a secondary lens in Mr Wang's eye in May 2014. The firm also continued paying him his monthly salary of $3,000 while he recovered.

In August that year, Mr Wang said he wanted to return to China. B19 bought him an air ticket and also gave him a goodwill sum of $1,500. In September, he returned to Singapore to claim damages from B19 through Hoh Law Corporation. He insisted he had suffered a "serious" eye injury through its negligence.

B19 managing director Kang Choon Boon, 58, told The Straits Times that he had felt "betrayed". The company had spent $13,000 on Mr Wang due to the incident.

When Mr Wang joined it in 2012, Mr Kang found him hard-working and considered grooming him to be a supervisor.

He said: "We treated him with all the kindness and support we could give. We never thought he would turn around and do this."

Mr Wang maintained B19 had failed to provide him with safety goggles while he was working.

But when cross-examined by B19's lawyer, Mr Raymond Lye of Union Law, he admitted that he had been given goggles but had not felt the need to wear them that day.

Judge Chiah wrote in his judgment: "When we hear of a foreign worker injuring himself as a result of an industrial accident, we are instantly moved to sympathy.

"However... not every employer of an injured worker is the callous businessman in relentless pursuit of profits, no more than every injured worker is the hapless victim of an employer's oversight."

The judge concluded that "such a litigious approach should not be encouraged among workers in Singapore", adding that he will hear both parties on the settling of legal costs.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 09, 2016, with the headline 'Judge dismisses worker's injury claims'. Print Edition | Subscribe