High Court rules against work injury compensation over man's fatal heart attack
An operations supervisor at a laundry factory who decided to go to work after experiencing chest pains earlier that morning died of a heart attack hours later in hospital.
Last year, his employer and its insurer were ordered by an assistant commissioner at the Manpower Ministry to pay his family $204,000 in work injury compensation for his death on Oct 20, 2018.
On Monday (May 23), the High Court overturned this decision and ruled that the family of Mr Tay Tuan Yong, 56, was not entitled to be compensated under the Work Injury Compensation Act.
Mr Tay's employer SM Laundry & Linen and its insurer Sompo Insurance, which were both represented by Mr Mahendra Prasad Rai, had appealed against the compensation order.
Under the Act, an employer is liable to compensate an employee for any "injury by accident" that occurred in the course of employment.
In a written judgment, Justice Ang Cheng Hock said the assistant commissioner was wrong to conclude that there was an "injury by accident" because Mr Tay had high cholesterol, which caused him to suffer an unexpected heart attack while he was at work.
The judge said it was insufficient to say that there was an "accident" simply because the injury - in this case, a heart attack - had occurred unexpectedly.
"Something external must have happened in the course of employment that triggered the heart attack suffered by Mr Tay, even if one accepts that he had pre-existing medical conditions that predisposed him to having a heart attack," he said.
Justice Ang added that Mr Tay's family have not proved that there was anything that occurred in the course of work that caused him to suffer a heart attack.
The judge said the evidence suggests that the events that led to Mr Tay's death were set in motion at 7am on the date of incident, or possibly even earlier.
Mr Tay had a medical history of high cholesterol and hypothyroidism, and smoked about 20 cigarettes a day.
In the three to four days prior to the incident, he suffered intermittent episodes of chest pains and breathlessness.
At about 7am on Oct 20, 2018, Mr Tay experienced an onset of chest pains but arrived at his workplace at about 9am.
He left work at about 10am to go to a clinic. He was referred to Changi General Hospital, where he died at close to 2pm.
Mr Tay's son testified that his father had mentioned that he was tired from working long hours and clocked more than 100 hours of overtime each month.
Mr Tay's boss, Mr Lim Chuan Aik, said Mr Tay could go home at 5pm each day but chose to stay late to wait for a female employee.
Mr Lim said he formed the view that Mr Tay was not doing work in the one hour he spent at the workplace that day.
Mr Lim said Mr Tay later phoned him from the clinic to tell him about a mistake in a work-related delivery matter.
Dr Baldev Singh, who testified for Mr Tay's family, opined that the worry that Mr Tay must have felt in making the phone call "sealed his fate".
Dr Wong Cheok Keng, who testified for SM Laundry and Sompo Insurance, was of the view that, bearing in mind Mr Tay's existing condition and risk factors, he was "already a ticking time bomb" and heading towards a heart attack.