Despite being awarded damages of $445,000 against the electric scooter rider who crashed into his wife, there is little guarantee Mr Leong Loon Wah will actually get the money.
The e-scooter rider is 21-year-old national serviceman Nicholas Ting Nai Jie, who says he is unable to pay because he has no assets and was not covered by insurance.
When asked if Mr Ting would consider negotiating the court-ordered sum down, his lawyer S. Selvaraj told The Sunday Times that even if the sum were halved, his client would still be unable to afford it.
“There is no point making him bankrupt at 21. He has no assets and we cannot predict how much he will earn in the future,” said Mr Selvaraj, who is from law firm MyintSoe & Selvaraj.
“Before proceeding to sue someone, the plaintiff should have considered how much (Mr Ting) has.”
Since the accident in September 2016, the victim – housewife Ang Liu Kiow, 57 – has been unable to speak, read or write and needs help with eating, dressing and using the bathroom.
She and her husband Mr Leong are represented by lawyer Benedict Teo from Drew & Napier. Mr Teo is acting on a pro bono basis for the family.
Speaking through his lawyers, Mr Leong, a contract worker making $2,000 to $3,000 a month, told The Sunday Times that more than $60,000 has been spent on Madam Ang’s medical bills and the costs are increasing. Hiring a domestic worker has also added to their financial burden.
“Based on the doctors’ assessment, (Madam Ang’s) disabilities will always remain as she has reached the functional end of her incremental recovery,” he said.
The father of three children aged 20, 26 and 30 is not giving up. The 57-year-old says he will explore other legal options, including taking Mr Ting to court to determine his assets or start bankruptcy proceedings against him.
Personal mobility device (PMD) riders are not legally required to be insured and cases like this one show that this needs to change, said observers.
There are already several insurance options for PMD riders, with one as low as $65 a year.
Mr Ho Kai Weng, chief executive of the General Insurance Association (GIA) of Singapore, said: “This lawsuit shows clearly that the cost of insurance is far less than the cost of being uninsured.”
The accident involving Madam Ang was one of many during the height of PMDs’ popularity several years ago, when the devices were seen as a way to help commuters make the first-and last-mile segments of their journeys.
But as accidents increased, the authorities started with getting users to register their e-scooters before banning them from public footpaths. In the second half of this year, businesses that use PMDs on public paths, such as food delivery firms, will have to cover their riders with third-party liability insurance.
In February, then Senior Minister of State for Transport Janil Puthucheary told Parliament that the Transport Ministry was working with the Active Mobility Advisory Panel (AMAP) and insurers to see how to extend insurance to individual riders. There have been no updates since then.
Until such measures are rolled out, lawyers whom The Sunday Times spoke to said that in cases like Madam Ang’s, there is little the family can do to receive the compensation due.
Describing Madam Ang’s case as unfortunate, veteran lawyer Amolat Singh of Amolat & Partners said: “It is a hole in the system because we get cases like this where people have been hurt in accidents and there is not much that can be done if they cannot afford to pay and don’t have insurance coverage.
“(But) if we ask everyone to be insured for everything, like riding a bicycle or even roller skating, things will slow to a halt.”
Similarly, lawyer Amarick Gill said: “The family can commence civil proceedings against the rider to get a judgment but at the end of the day, this is a tragedy. If he has no assets, the family will not be able to recover any of the money at all.
“Such PMDs should have insurance coverage to prevent future mishaps.”
In the 2016 accident, Madam Ang was running errands in Pasir Ris and as she stepped onto the footpath by a bus stop, she was hit by the electric scooter. She fell, hit her head on the ground and later underwent emergency surgery for bleeding in her brain. In 2018, Mr Ting pleaded guilty to causing grievous hurt by a negligent act and served a short detention order of two weeks.
PMD enthusiasts The Sunday Times spoke to argue that while insurance plans can help in some cases, they do not solve the root problem of PMD-related accidents.
Mr Denis Koh, a former AMAP member and chairman of the PMD enthusiast group Big Wheel Scooters Singapore, said: “The priority should always be prevention. This leans towards education, to mould the community towards a more gracious culture to share the space harmoniously.
“The insistence of just PMD insurance alone should not be seen as the sole solution, but it will have to kick in as part of the reparation process if someone does get injured.”
Mr Francis Chu, the co-founder of cycling group Love Cycling SG who previously sat on the AMAP, argued that having insurance as a shield may even cause recklessness on the roads.
“I feel (being uninsured) has a bigger deterrent impact and induces more careful behaviour when riding,” he said, suggesting crowd funding as a possible option for Mr Ting to pay the damages he owes.
Mr Leong said he is disappointed by Mr Ting’s refusal to pay any sum whatsoever. “I still get upset when I think of my wife’s current condition. However, I refuse to lose hope and am determined to continue caring for her.”