Who's liable in driverless train accident?

The scene of the accident at Fajar LRT station in March last year. The victim's widow claims SMRT Light Rail and LTA were negligent, but the latter have denied the claim and suggest the accident was wholly or partly the victim's fault.
The scene of the accident at Fajar LRT station in March last year. The victim's widow claims SMRT Light Rail and LTA were negligent, but the latter have denied the claim and suggest the accident was wholly or partly the victim's fault.PHOTO: SHIN MIN DAILY NEWS

Widow of commuter who died when 2 LRT trains ran over him suing SMRT Light Rail and LTA

The knotty question of where liability lies when a driverless train runs over a commuter could be decided in what would be a landmark court ruling here.

The legal process has been triggered by the widow of Mr Ang Boon Tong, who died when two driver-less LRT trains ran over him.

Madam Lee Yoong Cheng, 40, is suing both SMRT Light Rail and the Land Transport Authority (LTA) in the High Court for negligence.

SMRT Light Rail and the LTA have denied the claim, and suggest that the accident was wholly or partly Mr Ang's fault.

A High Court pre-trial conference is due on Wednesday.

The case promises to be a complex one, although the basic facts are not in dispute.

Mr Ang, 43, fell on the tracks while he was walking on the LRT platform at Fajar station at about 12.42am on March 24 last year.

At about 12.48am, a train pulled up at the same platform and ran over Mr Ang. Its sole passenger, an SMRT staff member, heard a noise but did not investigate.

The train was about to leave but it stalled, so a station controller was alerted and he activated a switch that enabled the train to proceed.

Another train pulled up about nine minutes later, and this time the station controller, who was on the platform, noticed that the carriage jerked upwards. After the train left, he saw Mr Ang's body on the tracks and alerted the operation control centre.

The coroner's inquiry last August heard that Mr Ang died of multiple injuries and ruled the death a misadventure.

But it emerged that when Mr Ang, a cook, fell off the platform, he was in an intoxicated state. The coroner's inquiry noted he had 232mg of alcohol in 100ml of blood - the equivalent of almost three times the driving limit for motorists.

Madam Lee alleges that SMRT Light Rail and the LTA breached their statutory or common law duty of care, which led to his death.

She claims that the LRT train's "overtravel switch" was faulty, which meant the train did not come to a halt when it ran over her husband, according to court papers filed by Hoh Law Corporation lawyer N. Srinivasan.

Her statement of claim calls into question the safety and surveillance systems, and alleges that staff members failed to notice the man lying on the tracks through the closed-circuit television footage.

Among other things, Madam Lee claims no alarm was triggered when her husband fell through the gap in between the fixed platform barriers and landed on the tracks.

The defendants, in court papers filed by Withers KhattarWong lawyer K. Anparasan, say there was one staff member on the first train. His job was to accompany it to the depot, but he did not have a view of the tracks when it pulled into the station.

They also note that the first train had two carriages. When the train stalled, the station controller was called to activate a bypass switch on the rear carriage, but he could not see Mr Ang, who was underneath this carriage.

When the next train came and ran over Mr Ang's body, the station controller noticed its upward jerk and discovered the body on the tracks after this train had left the station.

SMRT Light Rail and the LTA claim Mr Ang caused the accident by failing to be alert to his surroundings and not taking reasonable care of his own well-being, given that he was intoxicated at the time.

LTA and SMRT Corporation declined comment yesterday when contacted, explaining that the matter is before the court.

Correction note: An earlier version of the story misspelt the name of law firm Withers KhattarWong. We are sorry for the error. 

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 06, 2018, with the headline 'Who's liable in driverless train accident?'. Print Edition | Subscribe