Claiming for Personal Injury in Singapore: Procedure and Claim Amounts
What is a Personal Injury?
A personal injury is a physical or mental injury that is inflicted on your body by another. This normally arises in a traffic accident (including e-scooter accidents), an accident at work, or purely due to someone else’s negligence, such as botched medical procedures.
There are many ways a personal injury can arise, and therefore many ways one can claim for compensation. The most common way, however, is to bring an action for negligence.
Bringing a Negligence Claim
To claim under the tort of negligence, you will need to establish that the person you are suing against:
- Owed you a duty of care;
- Breached that duty of care due to a wrongful act or omission, thus resulting in your personal injury; and
- Caused a damage that is of a foreseeable nature.
More information can be found in our other article on suing for negligence.
Do note that the amount claimed can be reduced by the court if you are found to be contributorily negligent (i.e. your own negligence had contributed to the accident). You can be taken to be contributorily negligent if you fail to take reasonable care of yourself.
For example, if you jaywalk and thus end up in an accident, the court may reduce the amount of damages (i.e. monetary compensation) you can claim, as compared to if you had gotten into an accident while using the pedestrian crossing.
The amount by which the damages will be reduced depends on how relevant your contributory negligence was to the personal injury suffered.
For example, if you would have still been injured despite taking reasonable care to prevent the accident from happening, it is possible that your damages will not be reduced substantially.
What are the Damages I can Claim?
You can claim for damages for your personal injury if you can show liability (i.e. fault) on the part of the other party. This will be to compensate you for any physical and mental suffering caused to you.
In this regard, you can claim two forms of damages – general damages and special damages.
You may also be awarded punitive damages and costs to cover your legal fees.
General damages are damages that compensate for losses naturally arising from the injury. This includes pain and suffering, loss of future earnings and loss of limbs.
To prove pain and suffering, you need to be conscious at the time of the injury, and the amount claimable would depend on your capacity to feel pain and whether the pain is merely temporary.
More information can be found on our other article on how to quantify pain and suffering.
How to calculate general damages
To calculate pain and suffering and future medical expenses, the courts generally use a reference book titled Guidelines for the Assessment of General Damages to estimate the amount of damages one should claim.
For example, in the case of Quek Yen Fei v Yeo Chye Huat, Quek had gotten into a road traffic accident caused by Yeo. As a result of the accident, Quek’s right leg had to be amputated.
The court in this case followed the reference book that provided a range of $40,000 to $70,000 for pain and suffering from a below-the-knee amputation of one leg.
The court then chose to increase the limit to $80,000 as Quek, who was then at a young age of 20 years, went through a prior surgery to salvage the leg, and had continued to experience pain even after 4 years had passed since the accident.
To calculate the loss of future earnings, the court uses a “multiplier-multiplicand” method.
The multiplier refers to the number of years you have until retirement (i.e. the period of time you are expected to live, but not earn, due to the injury), and the multiplicand refers to the annual loss of earnings that you would suffer as a result of your injury.
This is then multiplied by a discount rate to account for risk of premature death, amongst other things. The final sum would be the damages for your loss of earnings.
In the case of loss of limbs arising from workplace accidents, the Work Injury Compensation Act (WICA) prescribes the amount of damages that employees can claim. This is calculated by the following formula:
Average monthly earnings × age multiplying factor × % loss of earning capacity due to permanent incapacity
The relevant age multiplying factor and the percentage of permanent incapacity can be found in the Third and First Schedules of the WICA respectively.
For example, if your average monthly salary is $2,000, you are 59 years old, and you lost an arm at the elbow in an accident, the relevant age multiplying factor would be 102 as per the Third Schedule of WICA, while the percentage loss of your earning capacity will be 75%. Thus, the estimated amount for your compensation would be 2,000 x 102 x 75% = $153,000.
The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) website provides a helpful calculator to gauge how much compensation you can claim from your injuries.
Special damages compensate for financial losses that have been directly incurred as a result of the accident. Such damages include compensation for medical consultations/treatments, hospitalisation and transport for medical visits.
To claim for special damages, you will need to prove your claims with clear evidence, such as your medical and hospitalisation bills.
The court will also take into account whether these bills were reasonably incurred. This means that if you have incurred a higher bill in a private hospital rather than going to a general hospital, the court will consider whether the higher bill resulted in you getting better treatment than in a general hospital.
If the higher bill did not result in you getting better treatment, the court may only award you special damages for part of your medical expenses, to the extent as to the amount that might have been reasonably incurred. This would be a matter of evidence proved in court.
Punitive damages are damages awarded to the victim to punish the other party for their behaviour. The Singapore Court of Appeal has stated that punitive damages could be awarded when the other party’s conduct is “so outrageous that it warrants punishment, deterrence and condemnation.”
However, where the other party has been punished under criminal law, the court may not further award punitive damages to punish the defendant.
Costs to cover your legal fees
Along with damages, you may also be able to get the other party to pay your legal fees for bringing your personal injury claim. Please refer to our other article to read more about litigation costs.
How to File a Personal Injury Claim
How you file a personal injury claim depends on the type of injury claim you have suffered.
If you have suffered a personal injury due to a traffic accident, your claims are normally handled by your insurer, especially if you are the driver.
Regardless, it may be best to engage a personal injury lawyer to handle the claim and ensure that the process is going in accordance with your best interests to claim maximum compensation for your injuries. You can read more in our guide to claiming for traffic accidents.
If you are an employee who suffered a workplace injury, you can opt to claim under the WICA. You do not need a lawyer for this. Rather, you need to report the accident to your employer as soon as possible, submitting your original medical certificate and original medical bills.
Your employer should pay for your medical bills and medical leave. You or your next-of-kin should also make an incident report to MOM here.
If you have a permanent incapacity, claims processing will commence automatically once your employer informs MOM or of the accident. You must attend a medical appointment(s) to have the extent of your injury assessed so that MOM can calculate the claim amount, which will later be paid out to you by your employer. Refer to our other article for more information on claiming work injury compensation for workplace accidents.
Alternatively, instead of claiming compensation via MOM and the WICA, you can choose to sue your employer in court. For this, as with other personal injury claims, you may wish to hire a lawyer to assist you.
You can get in touch with personal injury lawyers through our platform.
If you are claiming for permanent injury under the WICA, you need to submit the claim application form within 1 year of the accident.
If your WICA claim is for a non-permanent injury, there is no deadline for when your claim must be submitted but you should try to do so as soon as possible.
For other cases not under the WICA, you should make your personal injury claim within:
- 3 years of when you first sustained your injury; or
- 3 years from the date you first got the knowledge required for bringing the action,
whichever is later.
The second scenario of “when you first got the knowledge” occurs when you experience latent defects from the injury such as internal damage due to exposure to toxic chemicals. Latent defects are injuries that are not obvious at the time of the accident but may only surface after a period of time.
The focus in this case is whether you have taken reasonable steps to get knowledge of your injury, and it is from this date that the limitation period begins, even if it has been longer than 3 years since you sustained your injury.
The limitation period can also be extended if you have a disability, and will only begin from the date you deemed to be no longer disabled.
Notwithstanding the limitation periods above, it is advised that you get in touch with a lawyer and/or file your claim as soon as possible.
What Evidence Do You Need for Your Personal Injury Claim?
Generally, you will need to provide your hospital bills and medical certificates if you wish to claim for your medical bills.
If you are claiming for loss of future earnings, you will likely also need your income tax statements and pay slips as proof of your salary for the court to accurately gauge your future earnings.
If you have hired a lawyer, he/she should be able to advise you on other evidence you may also require.
Duration of a Personal Injury Claim
The duration of your personal injury claim is dependent on the complexity of your case.
If your case is simple and your injury is relatively minor, your case could be resolved between 1 to 3 months. If you have a more severe injury, your case could take up to 6 months – 1.5 years to be resolved.
Should I Hire a Personal Injury Lawyer?
Personal injury claims, especially in cases of negligence, can involve complex legal arguments on proving that the other party is liable for your injury.
It may therefore be best if you hire a personal injury lawyer to guide you through the process, especially for more serious claims. This is even more so if you are unable to reach a settlement with the other party.
A settlement is when both parties agree on a compensation amount in exchange of you giving up your right to pursue the matter in court.
A personal injury lawyer would be extremely helpful in:
- Letting you know what documents you will need to obtain for your claim;
- Advising you on your own liability should there be any contributory negligence; and
- Accurately navigating through the many legal arguments and defences that may be brought up in the process of trial.
Even in cases of settlement, a lawyer would be useful in gauging what your estimated compensation amount should be, so that you are not short-changed during negotiations.
However, if your claim is minor and can be handled by your insurer, you may prefer to file your claim with the insurance company and let them handle the compensation amount, without seeking legal advice.
Similarly, if you are claiming work injury compensation under WICA, you do not require a lawyer as your case will be handled by MOM, as stated above.
Do note that in Singapore, lawyers cannot enter into any champerty or “no win, no fee” agreements, where they get paid a proportion of your claim amount and only if they win the case.
Therefore, it is best to negotiate the fee with the lawyer and come to a fee agreement once you ask them to represent you.
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