Woman who fell into manhole sues Singapore PUB for S$5m, claims accident caused schizophrenia

Chan Hui Peng, who fell into a manhole in Singapore, was warded at Tan Tock Seng Hospital for five days before getting further treatment at Mount Elizabeth Hospital. — Picture courtesy of Legalstandard LLP via TODAY
Chan Hui Peng, who fell into a manhole in Singapore, was warded at Tan Tock Seng Hospital for five days before getting further treatment at Mount Elizabeth Hospital. — Picture courtesy of Legalstandard LLP via TODAY

SINGAPORE, Nov 25 — A 47-year-old accountant is claiming damages of about S$5 million (RM15.22 million) from the Public Utilities Board (PUB) in a civil trial that began in the High Court on Monday.

Chan Hui Peng is seeking compensatory damages, including for personal injuries as well as loss of future earnings, over her fall into a 1.8m-deep open manhole near Kovan on December 1, 2015.

In a first, she is also looking to prove that her recent diagnosis of schizophrenia arose from the accident.

The PUB has accepted 70 per cent liability for the accident but is disputing the extent of her injuries and the medical expenses to treat them, among other things.

Chan was a qualified chartered accountant at the time. She claimed that she earned S$11,500 a month while working as a senior consultant at business consulting firm HP&S International, which is run by her in-laws.

She has been on hospitalisation leave since the accident.

That day, while on the way to pick up some bird’s nest, she was walking along a pedestrian path when she fell feet-first into the manhole around the intersection of Simon Road and Upper Serangoon Road.

Three PUB officers were inspecting the manhole at the time.

Claim of no warning signs

In a court affidavit, she claimed that there were no warning signs or barricades there, and that the manhole was “enveloped in a shadow” amplified by glaring sunlight.

She added that her line of sight was blocked and she could not get around the PUB officers, who she said did not warn her about the open manhole.

She suffered an ankle fracture and several contusions and abrasions.Earlier this year, she was forcibly admitted to the Institute of Mental Health, where she was later diagnosed with schizophrenia, a major psychotic illness where patients have symptoms such as delusions, hallucinations, thought disorder and abnormal behaviour.

Chan claimed to believe that her husband was an evil spirit. She had also pushed a bamboo pole out the window, and reportedly prayed and screamed in the shower, among other incidents.

Through her lawyers, Letchamanan Devadason and Ivan Lee from Legalstandard LLP, she is seeking damages for:

  • Pain and suffering for her injuries that include major depressive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and schizophrenia
  • Loss of future earnings or earning capacity
  • Costs of future medical expenses or surgeries
  • Costs of future general healthcare expenses
  • Costs of a future domestic worker
  • Loss of opportunity to have a child
  • Pre-trial loss of income

The trial — to be held over the next two weeks before Judicial Commissioner Andre Maniam — will deal with several issues, including:

  • What were the exact physical and psychiatric injuries sustained by Ms Chan due to the accident?
  • Was her schizophrenia diagnosis caused by the accident, the stresses of litigation, or PUB’s hiring of private investigators, or a combination of all three?
  • What was her employment history?
  • Was she really performing work at HP&S at the time?

Both sides will call several experts in orthopaedia, psychiatry and psychology to the witness stand.

The PUB is also calling Ms Chan’s husband, the current director of HP&S, and Chan’s 79-year-old mother-in-law who was the former director of HP&S.

‘Concocted' employment: PUB

PUB’s lawyers from WhiteFern LLC, led by K. Anparasan, said in their opening statement that Chan’s injuries were not as severe as alleged.

She was warded at Tan Tock Seng Hospital for five days before getting further treatment at Mount Elizabeth Hospital.

The statutory board is arguing that Chan saw the three officers as she approached the manhole, then fell in after attempting to barge through them instead of walking around them and the manhole.

Anparasan said that Chan faked her employment at HP&S and “concocted” a cheque that showed her salary for the month of November 2015 was S$11,500.

The lawyer showed her “patchy employment history” and revealed that she was previously fined twice, in 2004 and 2006, by the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority.

Originally claimed S$20m

Chan originally claimed almost S$20 million in damages, based on a report by public accounting firm TT Profession, but told the court on Monday that she will no longer rely on the report. PUB’s lawyers had called it an “unprecedented” amount.

Anparasan also quizzed her on her employment at HP&S. She insisted that her salary of S$11,500 was in line with her seniority and standing in the industry.

Based on PUB’s opening statement, a forensic accountant found that among other issues, she went through 10 periods of unemployment totalling 39 months, her work experience differed from her responsibilities at HP&S, and that she herself had signed the cheque for her salary for November 2015. — TODAY

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