Court grants hearing for insurer's claims appeal

Administrative manager Chew Bee Ling, 49, was found slumped over her office chair on Jan 16 last year at her workplace, Temasek Polytechnic (TP), and was later pronounced dead.

Her next of kin sought compensation under the Work Injury Compensation Act (Wica). An assistant commissioner for labour (ACOL) found the claim valid and assessed the sum payable to be $204,000.

But the award will not be cleared until objections by the insurer of Madam Chew's employer, questioning if the cause of death was work-related, are heard and settled.

A High Court judge allowed insurer NTUC Income Insurance Cooperative's appeal against an earlier ruling by a subsequent ACOL, who had dismissed the insurer's notice of objection made in its own name, and not Temasek Polytechnic's.

Justice Woo Bih Li, in decision grounds issued last week, said the wider importance of NTUC Income's appeal was obvious as it raised questions about provisions in Wica and the administration of the work injury compensation scheme.

NTUC Income had objected to the award on the prescribed Form A in May last year, claiming Madam Chew's death was not caused by an accident that arose out of, and in the course of, her work but by her heart condition, as indicated in the death certificate. Her job involved administrative paperwork.

Her family, through lawyer K. Mathialahan, argued that the objection from NTUC Income was not valid as it was not submitted by Temasek Poly, Madam Chew's employer, based on Wica's requirements.

Various pre-hearing conferences involving the parties were held before an ACOL, who ruled last November that NTUC Income's objection was not valid, and the order for the sum stood.

Temasek Polytechnic and NTUC Income appealed to the High Court against the ACOL's decision at a hearing before Justice Woo in July this year.

NTUC Income's lawyers Ramesh Appoo and Vinodhan Gunasekaran argued that although the phrase "employer and person claiming compensation" was used in the main provisions of Wica, the objection from NTUC Income should be deemed to have been done on behalf of the employer, Temasek Polytechnic.

Justice Woo found that the scheme under the main provisions of Wica made clear that only an employer and claimant may object to the commissioner's notice of assessment and compensation. But the forms provided for the notice of objection (NOO) as well as the notice of assessment "suggest otherwise".

"These two forms have confused matters because they do suggest that an insurer may serve an NOO in its own name. It appears that the intention behind these two forms was to allow the insurer to object so that the views and objections of all interested parties to a particular assessment of compensation could be considered and addressed at the same time to expedite matters."

The judge held that since NTUC Income's objection "addresses the issue of liability as between TP and the claimants, the objection is to be prima facie construed as an objection submitted on behalf of TP under the main provisions".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 02, 2018, with the headline 'Court grants hearing for insurer's claims appeal'. Subscribe