Court rules hotpot restaurant liable for canister blast injuring diner

A diner who suffered burns from an exploding gas canister at a hotpot restaurant will be compensated after a judge held the restaurant negligent.

District Judge Lim Wee Ming found Chong Qing (Origin) Steamboat restaurant in Beach Road liable for damages, but dismissed the victim Linda Er's claim against Swee Huat Heng Engineering, the supplier of the stove and gas canister.

The judge, in decision grounds issued last month, ordered the restaurant to pay damages, which will include hospital bills, for pain and suffering, and income loss. The damages will be assessed separately.

Chong Qing's insurers, Liberty Insurance, will foot the bill.

Liberty's bid to be spared the bill failed as the court found the insurer did not show Chong Qing was reckless in its supervision of its employees, which would have breached the conditions of the policy.

Damages payable at the State Courts are capped at $250,000.

In the April 4, 2015 accident, Ms Er, 44, was having a meal with a friend at the restaurant when the gas canister in the portable gas stove that they were using to cook food exploded.

She suffered burns on her face and upper limbs, and testified the blunder was made by a Chong Qing waitress inserting a wad of tissue in the switch of the stove.

The switch had tripped repeatedly, and the waitress rolled up some tissue to insert into the switch compartment to stop the tripping.

The court noted this switch is the safety lever of the stove; it activates if there is pressure building up in the gas canister, ejecting the canister and shutting off the gas supply.

The court heard that stuffing paper into the switch would prevent the safety lever from activating and result in the gas canister exploding.

Chong Qing's lawyers Boo Moo Cheh and Arthur Quay countered that the accident was caused by Ms Er re-lighting the stove herself without seeking staff help, or shifting the gas canister or stove, based on the evidence given by the waitress.

But "Chong Qing has not specified how any of these actions could have led to the explosion", said District Judge Lim, finding Ms Er's evidence more credible.

"(This) in the light of the contemporaneous news report that was published in AsiaOne on April 7, 2015, soon after the accident, that contained an interview with the plaintiff (by a Wanbao reporter) that is consistent with the plaintiff's account," he added.

The judge found no evidence of negligence against the stove and canister supplier.

Swee Huat Heng Engineering, defended by lawyers K. Anparasan and S. Sumyutha, said the item supplied was tested and certified under the Singapore Consumer Protection (Safety Requirements) Registration Scheme.

Ms Er, through Hoh Law Corporation lawyer Jogesh Doshi, said she is now unable to go out in the sun as her skin is more sensitive and she can no longer carry heavy loads.

Liberty, defended by lawyer Daniel Loh, is appealing against the decision.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 06, 2020, with the headline 'Court rules hotpot restaurant liable for canister blast injuring diner'. Print Edition | Subscribe