A middle-aged woman who fell into a manhole five years ago took to court on Monday (23 November) to sue national water agency PUB for damages amounting to S$5 million.
Chan Hui Peng, 47, has now added her diagnosis of schizophrenia in February this year to the list of injuries she allegedly suffered due to the accident.
On 1 December 2015, Madam Chan was walking along Simon Road at 10.30am when she fell 2m into an open manhole at the intersection with Upper Serangoon Road.
As the result of the fall, the former accountant suffered multiple injuries including a fractured ankle, multiple bruises and abrasions in 11 areas of her body and spinal disc bulges.
Due to this, Madam Chan could not run and sustained an altered gait, scars on her limbs and intermittent lower back pain. If that’s not all, she is also unable to sit for longer than an hour without enduring neck pain and suffers from nerve damage which impedes the use of her right hand in certain activities.
Additionally, she is also scared and has a phobia of walking into holes and had related nightmares, and was not able to secure a job in the accounting industry as she had to take frequent medical leave.
In her affidavit, Madam Chan also pointed out that she experiences post-traumatic headaches and had suffered psychiatric issues like anxiety and panic attacks. The woman also claimed to be experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder, major depressive disorder as well as schizophrenia.
Her lawyer told to High Court on Monday that his client believes that her husband was an evil spirit and that laser beams were being shone into her condominium unit.
Mr L. Devadason revealed to court that Madam Chan is not claiming her initial amount of S$20 million, which is a figure based on the report of an accounting firm.
In response to this, PUB’s lawyers from WhiteFern LLC said Madam Chan “has made a mountain out of a molehill and has seized the opportunity to capitalise on the injuries she allegedly sustained because of the accident”.
Madam Chan is now seeking about S$5 million in damages, which includes damages for pain and suffering for her injuries, cost of future medical expenses, loss of opportunity to have a child, prospective costs of a caregiver as well as loss of earning capability and future earnings.
To this, PUB noted that it has accepted 70 percent of the liability for the accident, however disputes her claims for things like loss of future earning and future medical expenses.
PUB’s lawyer K. Anparasan argued that Madam Chan “has a proclivity to obtain and amend medical evidence to her satisfaction”. He added that the defendant’s psychiatric and psychology experts will testify that Madam Chan did not suffer from PTSD and that “there might have been a degree of embellishment”.
He also pointed out that Madam Chan was “dishonest” in coming up with her claim and had “concocted evidence with a hope of obtaining a windfall”.
“It is most regrettable that (Ms Chan) has not come to court with clean hands and has concocted evidence with a hope of obtaining a windfall,” said PUB’s lawyers.
“Whilst this accident is indeed unfortunate, the defendant will submit that the plaintiff had been dishonest. We will seek this honourable court to make a just and fair award in light of this and the evidence to be adduced.”
However, Mr Devadason stated that his client was just seeking “compensation” for her physical and psychological injuries so she “can continue her diminished existence with at least some measure of dignity”.
PUB claims Madam Chan tried to barge through
Based on PUB’s defence, it said that there were three PUB officers who were inspecting an open manhole, which is along the pedestrian path, on the day of the accident.
“As she approached the open manhole, she saw the three officers and attempted to barge through the same instead of walking around them and the open manhole, resulting in her fall into the manhole,” said PUB’s lawyers.
However, Madam Chan stated in her affidavit that she was watching carefully where she was going and was not using her mobile phone, as PUB alleges. She also said she was not rushing and was just walking to buy bird’s nest on a sunny morning with “glaringly bright” sunlight.
She explained the manhole was “enveloped in a shadow created by the overcast tree foliage”, and that she saw only “a big patch of dark shadows” in the area and did not see or expect that the manhole would be open.
If that’s not all, she also went on to state that the three PUB officers were dressed up in regular clothes and were not in safety gear, adding that there were no warning notices or barricades.
“As the PUB officers were not looking around or standing in a formation that would block off the entire Kovan footpath, there was nothing to put me on notice that there was danger up ahead or that I should avoid walking along the Kovan footpath.”
She also said that the officers didn’t warn her as she approached the manhole and continued chatting with each other, despite knowing that she was approaching.
“Just as my outstretched arm was about to make contact with the PUB officers, I suddenly found myself falling and plunging straight down,” Madam Chan said.
She continued, “My outstretched arm hit the pavement and I instinctively clung onto the ground in front of the manhole with both arms and hands.”
The trial continues.