Worker's death: Family's claim allowed to proceed

The dependants of a person who died in a workplace accident are entitled to make a claim for work injury compensation without first being appointed as executors or administrators of the dead person's estate, the High Court has ruled.

This comes in the case of a widow and her four children, who lodged a claim with the Manpower Ministry (MOM) under the Work Injury Compensation Act (Wica).

Madam Tan Mui Tiang and her children are claiming about $147,000 for the death of her husband, Mr Low Ngak Boon, a maintenance worker who had a heart attack at his workplace, the Innotel Hotel, on Aug 14, 2014.

Mr Low alerted a colleague when he began having breathing difficulties and was taken by ambulance to hospital, where he died.

His employer, Club Sonata, and the insurers, China Taiping Insurance, disputed the claim, asserting that Mr Low's death was not an accident. In July 2016, four months after a hearing into the dispute started, they applied to the Assistant Commissioner for Labour to terminate the proceedings.

They argued that Madam Tan and her children lacked the legal standing to make the claim as they had not gone to court to obtain letters of administration, a document that authorises a person to administer the assets of a person who died without a will.

They relied on two Court of Appeal decisions involving people who did not have the authority to make claims on behalf of family members.

In one case, the apex court ruled that the mother of an accident victim did not have the capacity to settle a negligence suit on his behalf as she had not obtained letters of administration.

In the other case, the apex court ruled that only a person appointed by the court under the Mental Capacity Act to act for a mentally incapacitated worker can claim work injury compensation on his behalf.

The application failed, and the insurer and employer then appealed to the High Court.

In a written judgment published yesterday, Justice George Wei threw out their appeal.

He said the present case - a claim by the dependants of a dead employee under the Wica - was different from the two cases cited. The first was an estate's claim for damages in a negligence suit brought by the victim, while the second had to do with representation of a mentally incapacitated worker.

Lawyer Anil Lalwani, who acted for Madam Tan and her children, said the dismissal of the appeal meant that the MOM hearing into their claim will carry on.

He said if letters of administration are required for such claims, it could deter dependants from making claims as it costs a few thousand dollars to get such documents.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 10, 2018, with the headline 'Worker's death: Family's claim allowed to proceed'. Print Edition | Subscribe