Injured In Your Housing Estate? Here’s What You Can Do

Last updated on January 25, 2023

man in pain after injuring knee

While residential estates and neighbourhoods are often expected to offer us a sense of safety and security, instances of accidents in housing estates do occasionally occur. Such an instance occurred in late 2022 when a 71-year-old woman sustained injuries after she fell into an uncovered drain in a residential estate in the Holland-Bukit Panjang area of Singapore. The woman subsequently commenced legal proceedings against the relevant Town Council of her estate.

While commencing litigation in court is one possible form of recourse for a housing estate injury, there are additional avenues of legal recourse that may be available to you which this article will detail. It will cover:

What is a Housing Estate Defined as?

A housing estate refers to a residential area which essentially comprises many units of homes forming a neighbourhood. In Singapore, there are both private and public housing estates. Private housing estates in Singapore generally comprise strata-managed condominiums and landed property, while public housing estates are primarily made up of Housing Development Board (HDB) flats.

Besides purely residential estates, mixed commercial and residential developments can be found in Singapore. Mixed developments refer to developments constituting a combination of both commercial uses and public or private residential flats.

What May Constitute Housing Estate Injury? 

A housing estate injury in this article refers to bodily harm sustained within housing estates which may be private or public in nature. An injury sustained within the residential component of a mixed development would also constitute a housing estate injury contemplated within this article.

Examples of housing estate injuries may include injuries sustained from:

  • Falling into drains along pathways (as in the example cited above);
  • Being hit by falling objects (such as tree branches, bricks, etc); or
  • Tripping over uneven or damaged staircases or pavements.  

What are the First Steps to Take If You are Injured?

Immediately following a housing estate accident resulting in an injury, there are a number of steps you are advised to take:

Obtain evidence related to the incident that resulted in the injury

Obtaining evidence related to the incident that resulted in the injury will be significant in supporting your claims as to the details of the relevant circumstances. Such evidence may include medical reports, invoices, photographs and videos. For example, you should take photos of the injuries and obtain an official medical report by consulting a doctor and seeking medical care.

Relatedly, should the nature and severity of the injury sustained affect your ability to work or cause you to lose your job entirely, you should retain relevant proof of any losses of earnings sustained. For example, if your profession requires you to drive and you have sustained injuries to your limbs as a result of the housing estate injury, thereby undermining your ability to perform your job, you may wish to request a detailed description of the nature and extent of such injuries in the medical report.

Alongside obtaining evidence of the injuries sustained, you are also advised to document the scene where the incident occurred. You can do so by taking photographs and videos of the location where you sustained your injury, and keeping any other evidence confirming your presence at the scene at the time of the incident. If there were any expenses incurred in relation to the housing estate injury sustained, you should also retain receipts and invoices for them.

While you may not have considered or decided on taking any course of action at the initial stage, following this step will ensure that you are equipped with the documentary proof you may be required to produce should you seek any legal remedy at a later stage.

Identifying the parties responsible for your injury

It is also advisable that you take steps to identify the party or parties that may be responsible for the injury you have sustained within the housing estate in question. For instance, if your injury was the result of you tripping over a badly maintained pavement, you would need to identify the authority tasked with maintaining the pavements. You may wish to do so by approaching the housing estate’s town council (in the case of a public housing estate), or the Management Corporation Strata Title (MCST) where the accident occurred within a condominium (in the case of a private housing estate).

Identifying the relevant authority or authorities that may be responsible for the injury you have sustained within a given housing estate is significant. Doing so will achieve the following:

  • Determine the proper party against whom you are seeking to obtain a remedy or the counterparty in any legal action you choose to pursue
  • Draw any faults or sources of danger within the housing estate to an authority with the power and capacity to remedy the situation

Examples of some authorities that may be responsible for housing estate injuries in private and public housing estates are shown in the table as follows:

Authorities commonly found in private housing estates
Managing agents
  • Refers to contractors engaged by the MCST in a condominium to manage the estate on a day-to-day basis.
  • Typically tasked with a broad range of tasks including supervising various contractors working within the estate, liaising with relevant authorities, renewing licences and ensuring the estate’s compliance with rules and regulations.
  • May be the appropriate responsible authority if they have failed to engage the relevant contractors to conduct regular maintenance of the housing estate compounds or failed to engage competent contractors to undertake the estate’s maintenance.
Housing developer
  • Responsible for the initial building of the structures within a housing estate.
  • Tasks include ensuring the structural safety of the structures they build and are required to consult qualified professionals in this regard.
  • May be the appropriate responsible authority to identify where the housing estate injury was caused by an infrastructure fault such as building beams collapsing, erosion of structural components, or pipe ruptures.
Contractors for specified tasks
  • May include authorities engaged to conduct day-to-day tasks such as cleaning, gardening, maintenance works, and pest control.
  • Depending on the particular scope of the contractor in question, they may be the appropriate responsible authority to be identified following a housing estate injury sustained due to or in relation to a given contractor’s failure to appropriately conduct their tasks.
Authorities commonly found in public housing estates
Town council
  • Autonomous legal entities led by elected Members of Parliament. They are tasked with the day-to-day operations of managing the common property of public housing and commercial property within a given town. Thus, their purview extends across a wide range of works including routine repairs and maintenance, cleaning, horticulture, and town improvement.
Housing developer
  • As detailed under “Authorities commonly found in private housing estates”
Contractors for specified tasks
  • As detailed under “Authorities commonly found in private housing estates”

What are the Potential Legal Remedies Available?

This section will provide an overview of the potential legal remedies that may be available to you in the event that you wish to pursue legal action for the housing estate injury you have sustained.

Initial correspondence and seeking a negotiated settlement 

Once you have identified the correct party or entity responsible for your injury, you should consider seeking legal advice prior to initiating any correspondence with the counterparty. Should you be seeking legal advice after having engaged in communications with the counterparty, you should disclose this to your lawyer as it may contain disputes as to liability which may affect the advice rendered.

The initial correspondence with the party responsible for your injury will allow you to broach the matter with a view to exploring the possibility of reaching a negotiated settlement without commencing litigation in court. For the purposes of such correspondence, it is advisable that you engage a lawyer to seek legal advice first and engage with the responsible party through your lawyer.

Your lawyer will be able to advise you on your legal position and the approach to take in reaching a settlement with the responsible party. Moreover, should any attempts at settlement prove unsuccessful, your lawyer will be able to assist you in navigating a potential litigation process.

Filing a civil claim/suit in court

In the event that your attempts at reaching a negotiated settlement fail, you may consider commencing litigation. Litigation is an adversarial process which involves taking legal action or suing someone in court.

You may refer to this detailed step-by-step guide on how to file a civil suit in Singapore for more information.

Once you have decided to pursue civil litigation, you should preliminarily identify the cause of action. This refers to the basis for commencing the suit. In the case of a housing estate injury, the relevant cause of action may lie in the law of torts as a negligence claim. Such a claim is appropriate where you have suffered damage by another party’s negligent conduct. To succeed in a negligence claim, you would need to establish the following 3 main elements:

  1. That the responsible party owes you a duty of care;
  2. That the responsible party had breached such duty of care; and
  3. That the injury you suffered was caused by the responsible party’s breach of their duty of care, and that such injury was not too remote from the conduct constituting the breach (i.e. the negligent conduct).

For example, should the responsible party be the Town Council, the first element may be made out on the basis that in undertaking the maintenance of the housing estate in question, the Town Council owed a duty of care to ensure residents’ safety by conducting the maintenance works properly.

Thereafter, the second element would consider the Town Council’s conduct and whether it amounted to a breach of the duty of care. An example of such conduct would be the Town Council’s failure to conduct regular maintenance works. Finally, the third element will be made out upon showing that the Town Council’s breach caused the injury and that such injury was not too remote from the conduct constituting the Town Council’s breach.

Our other article on suing for negligence in Singapore provides a more detailed explanation should you wish to consider negligence as a cause of action. 

Identifying the appropriate court to commence proceedings in

Once you have decided to proceed with filing a civil suit, you should next determine the appropriate court in which to commence the legal proceedings. At the first stage of commencing a civil suit in Singapore, the appropriate court you wish to sue in would depend on the amount of damages you wish to claim for the injury you have suffered:

Magistrate’s Court For claims below S$60,000
District Court For claims above S$60,000 and below S$250,000
High Court For claims above S$250,000

The types of damages you may seek in your suit in respect of a housing estate injury may include both general and special damages.

General damages refer to damages that compensate for losses naturally arising from the injury including pain and suffering, loss of future earnings and loss of limb. Special damages, on the other hand, compensate for financial losses that have been directly incurred as a result of the accident. These include compensation for medical consultations, treatments, hospitalisation and transport for medical visits.

For further elaboration on the various kinds of damages you may seek, you can refer to this article on compensation for personal injury cases.

Other legal remedies 

Besides commencing litigation in court, you may wish to consider resolving the dispute through alternative means such as neutral evaluation, mediation or arbitration

Pursuing such alternative processes offers you a cost and time-efficient approach to resolving the dispute. Moreover, the private and confidential nature of such processes can provide you as well as your opposing party the space to negotiate a mutually ideal outcome without generating any negative publicity or external pressure.

However, it is also important to note that even where a settlement agreement is reached, you may face difficulties in obtaining the responsible party’s compliance with it. In such an event, you may have to resort to applying to the court to enforce the settlement agreement which can cause you to incur an unnecessary wastage of time, costs and resources.

Even where a resolution outside of court cannot be reached, the victim may still proceed with continuing or commencing litigation in a civil suit after the attempt(s) at amicable resolution.

What are the Chances of Success in Bringing a Legal Claim For a Housing Estate Injury? 

The likelihood of succeeding in obtaining a remedy for a housing estate injury, whether through a civil suit in court or through alternate means, ultimately depends on the particular facts and circumstances of each case. However, some of the factors that may be relevant in this regard include the following:

  • Whether there was any duty of care owed to you by the responsible party;      
  • Whether your own actions contributed to the injuries sustained or the extent of such injuries;
    • For instance, it may be relevant whether your actions within the housing estate were dangerous or inappropriate. Where there was a barricade set up along a footpath, warning pedestrians that construction works are in progress and you nevertheless chose to walk along the barricaded footpath, your claim may be disputed on the basis that your injury was caused by you choosing to ignore the barricade and warning.
  • Whether the sum of compensation you are seeking is appropriate or excessive.
    • In the case involving a woman’s injury from falling into a manhole, a relevant point of discussion was whether the woman suing the Public Utilities Board was seeking a windfall from the suit.

This article has provided an overview of the options that may be available to you following an injury sustained in a housing estate. Some practical steps you should take following such an injury have also been discussed and may be crucial to obtaining a successful remedy.

It is ultimately advisable that you contact an experienced personal injury lawyer who will be able to guide you through the process of assessing the merits of your case and preparing the necessary documents.