-- ST ILLUSTRATION : ADAM LEE
A JAPANESE sales executive was seated in front of her manager at a training session at the company's premises last year.
When a colleague tried to get past her to reach a vacant seat next to hers, she stood up to give him more room.
Unknown to her, her manager pulled back her chair to give more space, so she fell when she wanted to sit again, with her back knocking the edge of the chair.
Ms Kato Naoko, 31, who sued her employer ServiceSource International Singapore for damages, will get compensation.
The amount will be determined later but, by mutual consent, she will accept a 25 per cent share of the blame for the incident which she said caused her pain, medical problems and psychiatric distress.
Ms Naoko, who has since returned to Japan, is seeking more than $600,000 in special damages, including some $546,000 in alleged loss of future earnings.
Both parties agreed in the High Court last week to settle the case, with the amount payable to be assessed by the court.
Ms Naoko took part of the blame as she also had a duty to look out to prevent danger to herself.
She had sued her employer for negligence based on the provisions of the Workplace Safety and Health Act, and claimed the firm had failed to provide a safe work environment.
The Act provides for an office to be included as a workplace in addition to work sites, factories and other industrial areas.
Lawyers said others may have suffered similar mishaps in the office without much ado, or may have settled internally, but this case taken to the High Court makes clear that such injuries can be pursued in court.
Under a High Court common-law suit, Ms Naoko has to prove her employer was negligent in order to support her claim.
ServiceSource is a US-headquartered company which partners with technology, health-care and other firms to maximise maintenance, support and subscription revenue.
It has more than 1,300 staff worldwide and manages more than US$5 billion (S$6.4 billion) in service revenue.
Ms Naoko, together with her account manager and more than a dozen other colleagues, were attending a training session in the company's premises at the Science Park last year when the mishap occurred.
According to papers filed by Hoh Law Corp lawyer N. Srinivasan, the fall caused a disc in Ms Naoko's spine to dislocate and bulge outwards, causing pain and discomfort that needed medical treatment.
She had to undergo neuroplasty injections some six months later to manage the pain, and also suffered from depression.
She suffers from residual disabilities following the injury, and is understood to be unable to remain seated for long periods to do office work without suffering lower back pain.
Her return to Japan had to be delayed till early this year, to enable continued treatment here.
KhattarWong lawyer K. Anparasan, defending the company, intends to contest the sums sought by Ms Naoko when the case goes to court again for the claims to be assessed.
Among other things she will, in due course, have to show evidence of the extent of her depression, pain and suffering, as well as potential earnings losses.
It is understood that both parties may eventually agree to refer the case to the Subordinate Courts for assessment. Claims there are capped at $250,000.