Ex-steward who ‘slipped on grease patch and fell’ sues SIA for $1.78m , Latest Singapore News - The New Paper

Ex-steward who ‘slipped on grease patch and fell’ sues SIA for $1.78m

A former flight steward who said he slipped and fell on board a plane is suing Singapore Airlines for $1.78 million, alleging that his former employer was negligent for allowing the workplace to be unsafe.

Mr Durairaj Santiran said he had noticed a patch of grease on the floor of the economy-class galley during a flight from San Francisco that was scheduled to land in Singapore on the evening of Sept 6, 2019.

The Malaysian said that about 2½ hours before landing, he slipped on the grease patch and fell on his back, hitting his head on the floor.

He claimed that as a result of the injuries to his spine, he is medically unfit to continue working as a flight steward.

Mr Durairaj, who was employed by SIA from April 2016 to April 2021, now works as a customer care analyst in Malaysia.

The damages he sought include $1.29 million for loss of future earnings, $30,000 for loss of earning capacity and $150,000 for future medical and transport expenses.

The 35-year-old wore a neck brace when he attended court on Feb 13, the first day of a 10-day trial.

His lawsuit alleged that SIA had failed to ensure that the floor of the aircraft was free of any substance that might cause him to slip, and failed to ensure that there was a system of cleaning to keep the floors safe.

His lawyers, Mr Ramasamy Chettiar and Ms Kasturibai Manickam, contended in their opening statement that the floor of the galley was slippery and therefore unsafe.

The fact that SIA did not take any preventive measures showed that the work system was inadequate, and the workplace was allowed to be unsafe, they argued.

SIA denied Mr Durairaj’s claims.

The airline’s lawyers, Mr Niru Pillai and Mr Liew Teck Huat, said in their opening statement that SIA pays all valid and legitimate claims made by employees, but responds “firmly” to invalid, illegitimate and false claims. “The defendant treats this as a highly questionable claim which they are obliged to contest resolutely,” said SIA’s lawyers. 

They highlighted that Mr Durairaj made two previous work injury claims, in 2017 and 2018, which the airline did not contest. In these claims, Mr Durairaj was awarded compensation for back and neck injuries through the Work Injury Compensation Act (Wica) process.

For the 2019 incident, SIA’s insurer objected to his Wica claim on the basis that his injuries appeared to be pre-existing. 

SIA’s lawyers also referred to a 2011 court action brought by another flight steward, who claimed he was injured by a bag that fell from the overhead compartment.

They said SIA had no choice but to “robustly defend” that suit, and was proven right when the court dismissed the case.

SIA noted that in the present case, no one else, whether passenger or crew, had slipped or fallen on the alleged grease patch. The airline contended that there was no grease patch “on the floor of the economy-class galley near the ovens beside the galley island” as alleged, and that this was not the location where he fell.

SIA also disputed his claim that he slipped and fell as he was “walking into the galley area while in the midst of preparing for the next meal”. It said he could not have been in the midst of preparing meals as the time to prepare and load the meal carts had not yet started.

Mr Durairaj also said that after he fell, his colleagues helped him into a “crew seat”. But SIA said he was “assisted into seat 21F in the business-class section”, where he remained until the plane landed. 

Taking the stand on Feb 13, Mr Durairaj said he noticed the grease patch after the cleaning crew had left, while the plane was taxiing on the runway for take-off.

He said he tried to clean the patch with a paper towel, but the floor was still slippery. He said he then told the leading stewardess, Ms Christina Chia, about it.

Mr Liew pointed out this was different from the version of events in his affidavit.

In his affidavit, Mr Durairaj had stated that he told Ms Chia about the grease patch before she told him to remove it.

He had also stated that after take-off and before the first meal service, Ms Chia told the cabin crew to clean the patch again, but to no avail.

In court, Mr Durairaj replied that he had to attempt to remove the grease before he told his superior about it. He added that he was the crew member who was told to clean it again.

Mr Liew later put it to him that his entire story about there being a patch of grease that caused him to fall was bogus.

Mr Durairaj disagreed.