Singaporean woman whose husband died in Sydney car plunge awarded $2.9m damages

Widow Michelle Lee leaves court with her legal counsel on Dec 1, 2008. Ms Lee who witnessed her husband reverse his car over the edge of a second-storey carpark in Sydney and plunge to his death, has been awarded A$2.6 million (S$2.94 million) d
Widow Michelle Lee leaves court with her legal counsel on Dec 1, 2008. Ms Lee who witnessed her husband reverse his car over the edge of a second-storey carpark in Sydney and plunge to his death, has been awarded A$2.6 million (S$2.94 million) damages, an Australian paper reported on Thursday. -- PHOTO: THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

A Singaporean woman who witnessed her husband reverse his car over the edge of a second-storey carpark in Sydney and plunge to his death has been awarded A$2.6 million (S$2.94 million) damages, an Australian paper reported on Thursday.

In March 2006, Ms Michelle Lee was with her husband, Thomas Lee, then 34, at the carpark in the Carlton Crest Hotel (Sydney), in the city's Haymarket area.

She alighted first, before her husband reversed the vehicle into a parking space, driving at no more than 5kmh. But the car hit a metal barrier which gave way. With nothing to stop it, the car fell off the edge of the building and crashed to the ground. Mr Lee was later pronounced dead.

Ms Lee, now 41, sued Carlton Crest and the City of Sydney Council for negligence and for the nervous shock she suffered witnessing her husband's death.

Justice Robert Beech-Jones on Thursday awarded Ms Lee just over A$2.6 million in damages during a brief NSW Supreme Court hearing, Sydney Morning Herald reported.

The payment will be split, with 75 per cent paid by the parking station operator and the rest by the City of Sydney, the report said. The parties will return to the court on Nov 6 to argue costs.

During an earlier hearing, Justice Beech-Jones said that apart from losing out on "significant economic benefits of the marriage", he found that the incident had caused "an almost complete psychological collapse affecting every part of her life, including her promising career as a speech pathologist".

According to Sydney Morning Herald, the NSW Supreme Court found that, as the owner and operator of the car park, Carlton was negligent because it was aware of numerous problems resulting from poor construction and maintenance of the concrete wheel stops and metal perimeter railing.

The City of Sydney council was also found negligent for certifying the car park for commercial use because the railing, which was used as edge protection, failed to comply with Australian standards.

The court had heard that the couple got married in 2000, when both were 27, and were based in Sydney.

Ms Lee, who grew up in Singapore and worked for four years here as a special education teacher, had studied speech therapy in Australia. Her late husband was a former Straits Times journalist and had been working with Sydney Ports Corporation as a systems analyst. Both were National University of Singapore graduates. She also holds a diploma from Nanyang Technological University.