Crash victim fails in bid to boost payout

This story was first published in The Straits Times on July 5, 2013

A MOTORCYCLIST left a paraplegic by a road accident has failed in a bid to increase the $2 million in damages awarded to him, after trying to persuade the High Court to recalculate his lost earnings.

Mr Eugene Lai had been seeking around $1 million more and is appealing against the decision, in a case which could impact how courts assess loss of future earnings (LFE) for injury victims. He had sued car driver Loo Wei Yen, 42, for negligence over a 2007 crash in Upper Thomson Road. Mr Lai suffered serious spinal injuries and fractures, leaving him wheelchair-bound and unable to work.

Ms Loo accepted 90 per cent liability for the accident and the High Court awarded him damages of $2,073,432 for pain and suffering, future expenses and loss of future earnings, among other things.

Mr Lai, who had been a senior logistics officer before the accident, appealed against the $880,262 assessed for loss of earnings and $486,000 awarded for future medical expenses.

He sought to increase his payout by urging the court to depart from its conventional way of calculating loss of future earnings. This involves multiplying the salary earned by the number of years the person would have worked to retirement. However, the number of years is usually discounted to factor in unforeseen events such as an early death as well as the fact that the victim gets a lump sum immediately which can be invested to yield returns.

In Mr Lai's case, the number of years left for the purpose of calculating the wage loss was 13 - even though at the time he actually had 23 years to go until he reached the retirement age of 62.

His lawyer Anthony Wee argued for a two-tier approach which would have seen the figure to multiply by being made up of the actual number of years he would have worked without a discount.

The amount of money to be deducted would then be worked out separately. Mr Wee arrived at $1.777 million for lost earnings - more than double the $880,262 awarded by the court.

Justice Vinodh Coomaraswamy, in a 44-page judgment released on Wednesday, rejected Mr Wee's arguments "as a matter of precedent, principle or policy".

He said: "The overall effect of choosing Mr Wee's approach is to effect an across-the-board increase in the level of awards for LFE. That too raises difficult questions of policy. In my view that is to be effected by the Court of Appeal or the legislature, not by the High Court."

Justice Vinodh noted the deductions sought by Mr Wee were already "embedded" in the High Court's judgment when using the conventional approach.

He said: "Even if I had wanted to adopt Mr Wee's submission, I had no admissible expert evidence before me in order to make the necessary findings of fact on the various discounts."

The court declined to increase Mr Lai's payout for medical expenses based on past cases.

This story was first published in The Straits Times on July 5, 2013

To subscribe to The Straits Times, please go to