Injured cyclist awarded record $8.65m

After cable accident, victim warded for over 2 years due to post-traumatic stress disorder

A cyclist struck by a bundle of overhead cables at a construction site was awarded $8.65 million in damages by the High Court, in what is said to be a record sum for such a claim.

Ms Siew Pick Chiang, 42, had initially sought about $26 million for the accident on Oct 15, 2009.

The falling cables caused relatively minor physical injuries, but her post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was so serious that it gave rise to a "litany of medical issues''.

It resulted in her being warded at Mount Elizabeth Hospital in 2014 "for more than two years at a stretch, and, I understand, still remains warded there", said Justice Woo Bih Li in giving the grounds for the judgment last week.

"The parties agree that Ms Siew's PTSD is severe,'' Justice Woo added, noting that psychiatrist Pauline Sim, who was treating her, "described her case as the worst she had seen". Ms Siew "was admitted into hospital 18 or 19 times", the judge added.

She was cycling on a public pavement in Pasir Ris Drive 8 when she was hit by the cables from a nearby construction site. Hyundai Engineering & Construction was its main contractor and Justice Woo found the company 100 per cent liable after a 2014 hearing.

The hearings to assess the sums for her claims, including for her medical treatment, pain and suffering, followed in 2015 and 2016.

Her lawyer Chong Pik Wah, from Wong, Thomas & Leong, had initially sought about $26 million in special and general damages.

These include $11 million for hospital and medical expenses and $6 million forthe cost of hiring part-time caregivers to look after Ms Siew and her son, who was born in April 2010. Before the accident, Ms Siew and her mother were involved in a business providing pre- and post-natal care services.

Hyundai's lawyer, Mr Michael Eu from United Legal Alliance, in noting the "staggering" claim, said it "was 13 times the highest award of damages by a Singapore court for a personal injury claim and was a figure that should give anyone pause for thought".

Justice Woo said it was not disputed that Ms Siew had a " host of medical issues" arising from her PTSD, which was "very serious". Two psychiatrists she had engaged supported the diagnosis and the extent to which she was affected, the judge noted.

Also, the consultant psychiatrist engaged by Hyundai "did not suggest (Ms Siew) was malingering or that the severity of her PTSD was exaggerated'', Justice Woo said.

He added: "He did not question why (Ms Siew) had to be admitted to hospital so many times or why her last and current stay was longer than two years."

As the evidence of Ms Siew's psychiatrists "remains largely unchallenged", it was not open to Hyundai to argue later in submissions that both psychiatrists "were pursuing an unreasonable course of treatment that was no more than a leap of faith", the judge said.

He noted she appeared to be in reasonably good health before the accident, and the contrary was never suggested.

The $8.645 million awarded included sums for loss of future earnings, present and future medical costs and non-medical expenses.

Justice Woo said it was "very difficult for the court to assess damages...especially in the context of future expenses".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 06, 2016, with the headline 'Injured cyclist awarded record $8.65m'. Print Edition | Subscribe