What is negligence and when can I sue someone for negligent behaviour in Singapore?

A man on the street can usually sue another man if he has been victimised by the latter’s behaviour. This is often evident either in contract or tort. If no contract exists between the perpetrator and the victim (i.e. between buyer and seller), the victim may be able to sue in tort. The tort of negligence is the most frequent tool utilised to right a wrong.

To sue a man for negligent behaviour, several elements must first be satisfied.

  1. Defendant owes Plaintiff a duty of care;
    1. The Plaintiff must prove that the damage to him was factually foreseeable by the Defendant. For example, if the Defendant threw a box of ice from the tenth floor of a HDB block, it is factually foreseeable that the box might injure someone.
    2. The Plaintiff must prove that he was physically, circumstantially or causally proximate to the Defendant. For example, a man who throws a glass bottle into the sea in Australia is not proximate to a man who steps on and is injured by the same bottle in a Singapore beach.
    3. There are no public policy considerations against finding a duty of care. For example, the court may find it unwise and too inviting to litigation, to impose a duty of care between floor cleaners who wet the floor, and patrons who slip.
    4. A duty of care may also be found if the Defendant has voluntarily assumed responsibility, or knows that the Plaintiff has placed reasonable reliance on the Defendant. For example, if a trishaw driver promised to deliver me safely to a location, he owes me a duty of care.
  2. Defendant breached this duty of care;
    1. The Plaintiff must prove that the Defendant acted below the standards of a reasonable man. For example, if a person runs over my foot on a Segway, the Court will decide whether a reasonable man riding the Segway will be skilled enough to prevent the accident.
  3. Defendant’s breach caused damage to the Plaintiff;
    1. The Plaintiff must prove that the damage to him would not have happened but for the Defendant’s negligent act.
  4. Plaintiff’s loss as a result of the Defendant’s breach is not too remote;
    1. The Plaintiff must prove that the damage to him was reasonably foreseeable by the Defendant.
  5. Defendant is unable to raise any defence to the Plaintiff’s action; and
    1. The Defendant may be able to defend himself or lower the compensation he has to pay if he can prove that the Plaintiff was contributorily negligent.
    2. He may also be able to defend himself he has given notice to the Plaintiff, that he is not to be held responsible for any negligent act. This may be done verbally, or via a disclaimer on a signboard, to name a few examples.
    3. He can also defend himself if he proves that the Plaintiff voluntarily accepted the risk.
  6. Plaintiff’s loss can be proven and quantified adequately.
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