Van driver found partially liable for accident with Audi that left his 8-year-old niece in a coma
The girl sat in the back of her uncle's van, which had no seats or seatbelts. She was flung out of the vehicle when a speeding Audi collided with the van.
SINGAPORE: A court has found a van driver 65 per cent liable for an accident in Woodlands that flung his eight-year-old niece out of the vehicle and onto a grass patch in 2020.
The speeding Audi driver involved in the collision, Vincent Chui Jin Hua, was accorded 35 per cent liability. Court documents did not name the girl or her relatives.
The suit was mounted against the two drivers by the girl, her father and a lawyer. She went into a coma after the accident and suffered serious injuries and long-term disabilities.
These include cognitive deficits, reduced higher-order language skills, cranial nerve palsy and dysarthria, which causes slurred or slow speech.
She also suffers long-term weakness and spasticity in her right arm and leg, and is unable to use her right hand functionally.
The girl's uncle was driving a van along Woodlands Avenue 12 towards Seletar Expressway on the night of Oct 23, 2020.
The girl, who was eight years old at the time, sat in the van's rear cargo compartment, which had neither seats nor seatbelts.
While the girl's uncle was executing an authorised U-turn along Woodlands Avenue 12, a red Audi came racing down the road and collided with the van.
Footage showed the Audi colliding with the van with tremendous force, said Judicial Commissioner Teh Hwee Hwee in a judgment released on Tuesday (Dec 13).
The van was thrown into a spin, mounting a nearby kerb and landing with the front half of the van on a grass patch.
The girl, who was seated on the floor of the rear cargo compartment with another person, was flung out of the van onto the grass patch next to the kerb.
The Audi was wrecked and crushed, with the hood reduced to mangled metal, the judgment stated.
The girl's uncle pleaded guilty to driving without reasonable consideration for other road users by failing to keep a proper lookout while performing a U-turn, resulting in a collision.
He was fined S$2,500 and banned from driving for a year. The Audi driver pleaded guilty to one charge of speeding at 124kmh, over the 70kmh limit on that road.
He was fined S$800.
The girl sued for unspecified damages, for her uncle's negligence in causing the collision.
This includes failing to give way to oncoming straight-going traffic before executing the U-turn, failing to keep a proper lookout, failing to ensure that the girl was wearing a seatbelt or approved child restraint and allowing her to be seated in the back of the van when it was inappropriate or unsafe to do so.
For the Audi driver, the girl also cited negligence. She said he was travelling at an excessive speed in the circumstances, failed to apply his brakes and failed to observe her uncle's van.
As a result of the accident, the girl was on medical leave for 277 days.
The girl's uncle argued that the Audi's excessive speed played a major part in causing the collision. He said that he would have completed the U-turn safely if the Audi driver was not speeding.
The uncle said he ought to bear 55 per cent of the liability, with 45 per cent going to the Audi driver.
The Audi driver argued that the van driver was substantially, if not fully, liable for the collision and causing the girl's injuries because he failed to give way or keep a proper lookout before making the U-turn.
In addition, the van driver negligently exposed his niece to a higher risk of injury by allowing her to travel as an unbelted passenger in the back of the van.
The Audi driver said the van driver should be fully liable for the collision. In the alternative, his liability should not exceed 10 to 20 per cent, he said.
THE JUDGE'S RULING
Judicial Commissioner Teh said that the accident could have been avoided if the van driver had kept a proper lookout. Similarly, if the Audi driver had not exceeded the speed limit "to the outrageous extent that he did", the accident would not have happened, she said.
She said the girl's uncle was "more blameworthy, but not by a wide margin".
She added that the uncle's failure to ensure that his niece was properly seated and secured with a seatbelt was a factor that contributed to the extent and severity of the girl's injuries.
She noted that the van driver's daughter, along with the plaintiff's sister, were seated in front of the van and properly restrained by seatbelts. They were not ejected from the van when the collision occurred.
"The (uncle) was irresponsible and reckless to place an eight-year-old child in the rear cargo compartment of his van that was not meant to carry passengers," said Judicial Commissioner Teh.
"He knew that was unsafe for the plaintiff since he was aware that the rear cargo compartment of his van was meant to carry goods, and not passengers."
She said he was in effect "betting on a safe journey and placing the plaintiff at grave risk of serious injury, which unfortunately materialised".
As for the Audi driver, he knew that stretch of road as his office was nearby, and should have been aware of the speed limit and the risks of speeding.
"The (Audi driver) must bear responsibility for his recklessness and total disregard for the life and safety of himself and other road users," said the judge.
The issue of damages will be decided in subsequent hearings.