Wet market owner 65 per cent to blame after woman slipped on oil splatter and was injured

SINGAPORE - A woman who slipped and suffered a tailbone fracture while walking along a wet market corridor will get compensation after a district judge placed 65 per cent blame on the owner and operator of the premises.

The court found Heeton Holdings, which operates the privately-owned wet market at Tampines Mart, and its subsidiary Heeton Estate jointly liable to pay damages to be assessed later.

The case is unusual as it was not about a wet floor, which was to be expected of a wet market, but about a splatter of oil on the floor from unauthorised cooking.

"There are few known falls in a wet market perhaps because visitors know to walk with measured paces and careful balance because of present slip risks," said District Judge Loo Ngan Chor.

"It is noteworthy that the complaint before me was really not about a wet floor causing the plaintiff to slip and fall," he added in judgment grounds last month.

The mishap occurred on Aug 5, 2011 around 3 pm when Ms Angela Lim, then 32, was walking along the corridor with her boyfriend Chee Jin Cheng when she slipped and landed painfully on her behind. The fall led to injuries including a fractured tailbone.

When she landed, she touched the floor and felt the presence of oil.

Ms Lim sued the defendants for breach of duty of care, in failing to ensure the wet market was operated in a safe manner so as not to cause danger.

Her lawyers Raeza Ibrahim and Jonathan Cheah argued, among other things, that the tenant of a stall she walked past had occupied an untenanted stall on the other side of the corridor.

Photographs taken by her boyfriend showed the presence of gas cylinders, two huge pots atop stoves and someone stirring one of the pots.

This led the judge to infer that there was cooking going on at that stall, which was meant to be untenanted and vacant.

The two-day trial earlier this year heard that Ms Lim had taken a route just outside a stall where cooking was improperly going on, stepping on two tiles which sloped slightly down to the flat corridor.

The stall had no enclosures, unlike in a hawker centre.

 

The judge noted that no cooking is allowed within the wet market, neither, as a matter of policy by the National Environment Agency, nor by the defendants.

District Judge Loo found the type of cooking that was going on in the untenanted stall, adjacent to the corridor on which Ms Lim fell, "did probably cause the oil splatter".

"The defendants breached their duty of care to ensure a safe wet market when they failed to enforce the rule against cooking therein," added the judge.

Defence lawyer Ramasamy Chettiar argued that Ms Lim contributed to the negligence in not explaining if she walked with care in the wet market.

The judge held Ms Lim should have walked "with more care, in a gingerly way, if you like, since she was entering a wet market. If she had done this, I do not think that she would have fallen because of an invisible splatter of oil from nearby cooking".

The judge assigned 35 per cent blame to Ms Lim for the fall - which means she stands to get 65 per cent of the awarded sum when damages are separately assessed. Personal injury claims in the State Courts are for awards of up to $250,000.

Both parties are appealing against the decision.