Worker rejected firm's offer but gets less in court

Injured man declined $50k settlement - but got less in damages despite winning court case

An injured worker who declined a company's offer to settle at $50,000 and took the case to court for a bigger sum may end up the "loser" - even though he won the case.

The High Court awarded Mr Wang Jianbin some $37,000 in damages and loss of earnings but as this sum is less than that offered for the settlement, the Chinese national will have to pay the full costs of the defence lawyers.

Mr Wang, 41, a construction worker and sole breadwinner from China's Hebei province, was injured in the right forearm, neck and forehead by a metal pipe in the course of work in July 2011.

His employer, Hong De Development, and the main contractor accepted 80 per cent of blame for his injury before an Assistant Registrar (AR) in the High Court, who awarded Mr Wang $28,000 for pain and suffering and $2,000 for future medical expenses.

But since this award was less than what he would have got had he not taken the case to court, she also ordered him to pay the full, indemnity costs for the legal fees of the other side. However, she also ordered the defence to pay him $5,500 in legal costs from the time the suit was filed to the time the offer to settle was made in October 2014.

The AR had, among other things, found poor evidence of any permanent disability. The injuries had all healed with no residual handicap except for headaches, giddiness and some numbness in the arm.

She found Mr Wang was "making up evidence in the witness box" and the medical evidence did not rule him out of work. However, he had made no attempt to get a comparable job in China despite having returned there for two years.

Mr Wang, represented by lawyer Eric Liew, appealed to the High Court following the AR's assessment in July of damages payable.

In examining the items, Justice Choo Han Teck said the AR had been "generous" to have awarded Mr Wang $2,000 for future medical expenses even though she was not satisfied he had shown enough evidence he would incur those costs.

Mr Wang had sought compensation for future medical expenses, claiming they were required for more orthopaedic treatment, physiotherapy and pain medication.

Justice Choo was also not convinced by his claims for loss of future earnings, and agreed with defence lawyer Ramesh Appoo that Mr Wang , "having realised the inadequacies of his evidence and his case, is hoping to overcome them not with evidence but a plea that the court should find it reasonable to accept that many of the missing evidence could and should be assumed".

The judge rejected Mr Wang's claims but allowed the appeal for pre-trial loss of earnings for the period he remained in Singapore on medical leave until his repatriation to China.

The additional sum awarded of $7,830 would supplement the $12,313 paid by his employer during the medical leave period .

This raised the overall sum for Mr Wang to $37,830 which at 80 per cent meant he got $30,264.

From this, Mr Wang would have to pay $23,000 in costs for defence lawyer Ramesh Appoo, which leaves him with about $7,000 to sort out the bill for his own lawyer, together with the $5,500 in legal costs awarded earlier by the AR.

Justice Choo noted Mr Wang had spurned a "generous" offer to settle and the AR was right to order indemnity costs.

"The award of costs on that scale is an important aspect of the idea behind the offer to settle. If a litigant believes that he is entitled to more, then he must accept the consequences if he fails," he wrote.

" If (Mr Wang)'s lawyers will consider waiving their own fees, (he) would have returned to China with a bit of compensation, instead of a substantial debt," he added.

Justice Choo declined to make any order as to costs for the appeal, acknowledging "this may be unfair to the defendants but they at least had the comfort of obtaining substantial costs before the AR".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 29, 2015, with the headline 'Worker rejected firm's offer but gets less in court'. Print Edition | Subscribe