18 October 2017
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Family of motorcyclist in coma sues NParks

Straits Times
11 Oct 2017
K.C. Vijayan

Wife, sister allege negligence behind fallen tree branch; defence says weather was likely cause

The family of a motorcyclist who fell into a coma after being hit by a falling tree branch is suing the National Parks Board (NParks) in the High Court, seeking damages for alleged negligence.

The case is being closely watched as it may clarify the extent of the NParks' liability, if any.

The wife and sister of Mr Lee Kar Choon allege the accident on July 20 last year showed NParks' negligence. The pair were appointed by the court in June as his deputies under the Mental Capacity Act, given his extensive disabilities.

The NParks is denying the claims in defence papers filed in a first reported suit against the board in such circumstances.

A 2009 court case involved a privately held compound where insurers for St Andrew's Cathedral agreed to pay a woman $500,000 in settlement of her High Court suit which was discontinued.

The woman was left paralysed from the chest down after being hit by branches from a tree in the church's compound while walking along a pavement in North Bridge Road.

In the present case, Mr Lee, then 23, was riding his motorcycle at 6.30am along Admiralty Road West towards his workplace in Woodlands Loop when the tree branch fell. It caused him to be flung off the motorcycle and he suffered head injuries. He lapsed into a coma and was admitted to Khoo Teck Puat Hospital before being transferred to KPJ Ipoh Specialist Hospital in November last year.

Mr Lee, a Malaysian, lived with his wife, Madam Chai You Yuet, 23, and their two-year-old daughter in Johor Baru. He continues to receive treatment in Ipoh where he remains in a vegetative state because of the severe traumatic brain injury.

In court papers, his lawyer N. Srinivasan alleged the accident was caused by NParks' negligence in failing to reasonably maintain the trees in a healthy and stable condition so as not to pose a danger to road users.

Among other things, Mr Srinivasan claimed NParks failed to correct or warn of the dangerous condition that it should have known existed at the location.

He further alleged NParks failed to conduct proper or adequate crown reduction pruning exercises to limit tree exposure and damage from adverse weather conditions.

NParks, defended by Senior Counsel Lok Vi Ming, said there was a system in place to assess the condition of the trees in Admiralty Road West, including regular inspections, and maintenance works were carried out on trees along the road.

Tree inspection was conducted by an arborist on March 10, 2015, followed by tree removal and pruning some three months later, and pruning was also conducted in January last year.

He added that the tree was healthy and the cause of the branch breaking was likely to be exposure to unusually stormy weather for three days up till the day of the incident, accompanied by wind speeds of up to 50km per hour.

Mr Lee's family is seeking damages for pain, suffering and loss of amenities, medical costs and treatment as well as loss of earnings.

A High Court pre-trial conference is due later this week.

An NParks spokesman yesterday declined comment when contacted, deeming it inappropriate "as this matter is before the courts".


PLAINTIFF'S ALLEGATIONS

The accident was caused by NParks' negligence in failing to reasonably maintain the trees in a healthy and stable condition so as not to pose a danger to road users.

NPARKS' DEFENCE

Maintenance works were carried out on trees in Admiralty Road West in 2015-2016. A tree inspection was conducted by an arborist on March 10, 2015, followed by tree removal and pruning some three months later, and pruning was also conducted in January last year. The tree was healthy and the cause of the branch breaking was likely to be exposure to unusually stormy weather for three days up till the day of the incident, accompanied by wind speeds of up to 50km per hour.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.