AN AIRCRAFT technician offered $4,500 under the Work Injury Compensation Act opted instead to sue in the High Court, where a $275,000 settlement was reached last week.
Mr Jason Lee, 37, had injured his back six years ago while lifting cabin seats and later sued his employer SIA Engineering Company (SIAEC), which does aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul, for alleged negligence.
The aeronautical engineering technician and a dozen other colleagues had been told to dismantle and remove cabin seats of an aircraft on April 18, 2008. The plane was at Changi Airport outside a hangar, with an aerial platform attached to a truck.
The group was told to finish the job as soon as possible, so the plane could be relocated elsewhere.
According to court papers, when work resumed after lunch, Mr Lee felt a sudden sharp pain in his back while lifting a 30kg two-person seat with a colleague. But as they had to complete the work quickly, he continued, placing the seat on a trolley and pushing it to a plane door so it could be loaded onto the aerial platform. On returning to dismantle and then lift another seat with his colleague, he felt another sharp pain. This time, he stopped and rested. But the acute back pain did not go away and he sought treatment.
He was diagnosed with a spine-related lower-back joint dysfunction that required injections to reduce the pain. The back pain is expected to be permanent and the treatment ongoing. The injury meant Mr Lee had to be re-deployed to office work that does not entail heavy load work.
His lawyer, Mr A. Perumal, had alleged when the suit was filed in 2011, that the company had failed to take practical steps to avoid foreseeable risks at the worksite. SIAEC's lawyer Niru Pillai had then disputed the claims in defence documents, arguing that Mr Lee was adequately trained on safety procedures for carrying cabin seats, and the work system was safe, well-planned and organised.
It is understood Mr Lee had sued for more than $700,000 in damages for continuing medical expenses, loss of future earnings, and pain and suffering, among other things. The $275,000 settlement between the parties before Senior Assistant Registrar Wendy Yap in the High Court last week meant a week's court hearing fixed in June was no longer needed.
But the case could have helped clarify the liability of employers where injuries occur not from a mishap but in the course of work by an employee.
Under the Work Injury Compensation Act, the maximum sum payable is $180,000. In 2009, an assistant commissioner of labour from the Manpower Ministry had found Mr Lee's claim to be valid and ordered $4,500, or about 2.5 per cent of the maximum, based on the medical assessment.
Lawyers point out that under the Act, compensation payouts for work-related injuries are no-fault claims. This means the injured party does not have to prove negligence.
If a party rejects such a compensation and files a civil suit instead, he has to prove negligence by the other party for the court to decide and damages to be assessed.