Easy money (?): SBS compensates woman $82k after she is thrown off her seat

What impressed me most is how the incident which took place in April 2004 was only reported (for a legal battle) in 2007 and how it was only resolved only in May this year.

By the way, it's the same Miss Khek Ching Ching who has been banned from entering NTUC outlets 2 years ago--she and her sister, Miss Khek See See.

SHE claimed that she was thrown off her seat in a bus when the driver braked suddenly.

For that, Miss Khek Ching Ching, 43, took SBS Transit to court, claiming that her injuries from the incident caused her to have difficulty walking.

In May, District Judge Leslie Chew ruled in her favour and awarded her about $82,000 in compensation.

He found that the bus driver had been negligent and was liable for Miss Khek's initial injuries.

The unemployed woman claimed she suffered a sprained ankle and tenderness in her chest.

Although she recovered from the injuries, she said she later developed a more serious medical condition known as Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS).

Her walking difficulty affected her mobility so badly that she needed to use a wheelchair or be assisted by her elder sister, she claimed.

Judge Chew found that the incident led to her developing CRPS - a chronic condition in which patients experience continuous, intense pain, usually in the limbs, and worsening over time - and that the bus company was liable for that.

The court was told that the incident happened on April 28, 2004.

Miss Khek testified that she had been seated opposite her sister in a four-seater seat on Service 372.

The bus was travelling along Compassvale Drive when the driver suddenly slammed hard on the brakes while approaching a traffic light.

The impact caused her to be thrown off her seat. She lurched forward and hit her sister's knees.

She suffered tenderness on her chest, wrists, right ankle, right shoulder, and swelling and tenderness on her left ankle.

Miss Khek told the court that she did not inform the driver,Mr Yeo Hang Meng,immediately after the incident because she was "fearful of a bus driver who had driven in such (an) unsafe manner".

In its defence, SBS Transit denied the incident had happened and that it was something that Miss Khek had made up.

When he took the stand, Mr Yeo said he could not recall the incident and that he came to know about it only when he was called up by his employer following Miss Khek's complaint.

But Mr Yeo admitted in court that he later received a police warning over it.

Credibility

The defence also attacked Miss Khek's credibility, telling the court that she was known to be a difficult customer who had lodged many complaints against other companies, such as supermarkets and departmental stores.

To bolster its case, the company called several witnesses from these organisations to testify how she had been unreasonable in her dealings with them.

In cross-examining Miss Khek, SBS Transit's lawyer, Mr Anthony Wee, took her through "voluminous documents which appeared to have documented her various complaints against different parties".

Mr Wee also argued that even if the incident did take place, her injuries - both the initial injuries and the CRPS - were a result of her pre-existing injuries and not a result of the incident.

The court was told that Miss Khek had been injured on two previous occasions. The first was on June 6, 2002, when her right ankle was bruised after her foot was caught by the closing doors of a bus she was travelling on.

Then, on July 9, 2002, she sprained her right knee after knocking it because a bus she was travelling on had"suddenly braked". Although Miss Khek won the suit, she is unhappy with the amount awarded and is appealing.

When The New Paper visited the Khek sisters at their one-room rental flat at Chin Swee Road on Tuesday, they did not allow us in.

We spoke to them through the gate as they sat on two chairs in the living room. Miss Khek said that after the incident, she was unable to work.

Pointing to a wheelchair, she said: "I use that.My(left) leg hurts and I have to limp. The pain is continuous.

"It's like a burning pain; sometimes it's like an electric shock and I can't control the nerves."

When asked if she was working, her sister, 47, said: "I also can't work. I have to take care of my sister.

"She can't walk without me helping her and I have to bathe her, help her to the toilet. I'm her sole support."

So who is supporting them financially? Miss Khek's sister, who did not want to give her name, replied: "It's irrelevant, right? You don't need to know."

Miss Khek had asked the court to be compensated for her loss of earning capacity and her loss of future earnings as a result of the incident.

But the judge said there was no basis to do so. This was because the sisters' paper doll-making business had been losing money in the two years before the incident.

Even when the business was wound up in 2007, it continued to record a loss of almost $13,000.

Many times during the interview, Miss Khek's sister would jump in and answer the questions for her.

"I was the one who handled all the documents, you can ask me," her sister said.

On why Miss Khek decided to sue SBS Transit, her sister said Miss Khek had sought medical treatment after the incident and complained to the bus company the next day.

She added: "When we finally met up with them more than a month later, we were told to make a police report."

They were eventually offered $3,500 in compensation, she said, adding: "But that was not enough. My sister needs long-term treatment."

No improvement

Three years after the incident, her condition showed no improvement, Miss Khek said, so she filed the suit in 2007.

She said she has never left home without her sister since the incident.

The sisters, who spoke in fluent English and Mandarin, did not want their photographs taken - for privacy reasons.

Miss Khek's lawyer, Mr Syed Ahmed Chisty, is discharging himself and will not be representing her in her appeal.

From Asiaone, "Hardbraking costs SBS $82,000".

Her litany of complaints over the years is long and extensive.

Whether it's bus companies, supermarkets, department stores or her neighbours, she has complained about them all.

So much so that two years ago NTUC FairPrice took the unusual step of banning her and her elder sister from all its outlets to protect its staff and other customers. This emerged during a 17-day trial in which Miss Khek Ching Ching, 43, sued bus company SBS Transit.

Yesterday, The New Paper reported that in May, District Judge Leslie Chew found the bus driver to be negligent and liable for her injuries suffered as a result of the incident on April 28, 2004.

Miss Khek claimed that she was thrown off her seat and hit the knees of her sister, who was seated opposite her,when the bus driver braked suddenly.

The court was told that Miss Khek and her sister, See See, 47, both unemployed, were known to be difficult customers.

Evidence of their history of complaints against various companies was put forward by SBS Transit's lawyer, Mr Anthony Wee, to support his client's argument that Miss Khek had"simply invented" the accident.

The defence described her as someone who "has a history of lodging complaints against third parties for economic and/or other gains".

Several witnesses testified about how in their dealings with Miss Khek, "she had behaved, from their perspective, unreasonably, complaining about various incidents".

Judge Chew noted that the "strongest suggestion of the 'unreasonableness' of (Miss Khek) and to a lesser extent her sister" was the fact that NTUC FairPrice had classified Miss Khek as "persona non grata" (an unwelcome person).

Yet, in a two-hour interview with The New Paper, the sisters emphasised repeatedly that they were friendly and had no problems with people.

Still, there was no denying that their relationship with the supermarket chain was strained.

The court heard that from April 2007 to October 2008, the sisters lodged 19 complaints with NTUC Fair- Price about various issues.

These included gripes about customer service, poor quality of products and even about injuries caused to them by the staff or third parties at the outlets.

A NTUC FairPrice staff member testified that each complaint of theirs was taken seriously.

The sisters would be refunded money or allowed to exchange products they had bought even though it meant that NTUC FairPrice had to deviate from its standard exchange and refund policy.

Under the policy, the goods had to be defective and the goods and receipt produced no later than 15 days from the date of purchase.

On some occasions when a refund or exchange could not be given, the sisters would be given gift vouchers instead.

The company said it also took action, including counselling, against the staff members whom the sisters had accused of poor service.

Last Straw

But one incident the Kheks griped about was "the last straw" forNTUCFairPrice.

The company found the complaint "frivolous and vexatious" and said it "amounted to an abuse of (the) goodwillshown tothem" in their earlier complaints.

The court heard that on Aug 8, 2008, the sisters were at the Tiong Bahru Plaza store to return a bag of potatoes they claimed wasof very poor quality. At the store, they got into a dispute with two other customers.

Miss Khek See See alleged that one of the customers had"knocked into" her younger sister'sabdomen,causing her "to feel discomfort". She showed a staffmember a photo of the latter's surgicalwoundon the abdomen. But she "became agitated when asked to give more details" of the alleged injury. The customers also denied knocking into either sister.

When she claimed that her younger sister was about to faint, a staff immediately got her a chair from the office.

And upon her insistence, an ambulance was called to take Miss Khek to hospital. The police were also alerted.

The sisters later lodged a complaint about the incident. After investigating, NTUC FairPrice decided to ban the sisters from all its stores.

The court heard that on Oct 9, 2008, a notice was sent to the sisters informing them of the ban. NTUC FairPrice also warned them that legal action would be taken against them "if they set foot in any of our supermarkets island wide".

The supermarket chain had found that the sisters "were being unreasonable to the extent of harassing our staff and became a nuisance to other patrons", the court heard.

"They also caused our staff to suffer from mental anxieties and distress in dealing with them." The sisters appealed to a member of parliament to help overturn the ban but NTUC FairPrice stood firm. The ban remains to this day.

Two years before that, the sisters had complained about Yue Hwa emporiumin Chinatown. They had been walking along an aisle in the emporium in October 2006 when Miss Khek said she tripped on a raised metal strip on the floor.

She had just come from an acupuncture session and was shopping with her sister then.

The sisters claimed that this aggravated an existing swelling in one of her legs and demanded compensation of close to $10,000. The emporium eventually paid them about $6,000. Pointing to these incidents, Mr Wee told the court that Miss Khek "ought to be considered as someone who was unreasonable, making unreasonable complaints frequently, often exaggerating claims and complaints".

The Khek sisters should not be allowed to "run rings around unsuspecting retailers and service providers and be allowed to benefit and unjustly enrich themselves by filing frivolous complaints", the court was told.

The court heard that Miss Khek had also been injured on buses on two occasions in 2002.

The first was on June 6 that year when her right ankle was bruised after her foot was caught by the closing doors of a bus she was travelling on.

Then, about a month later, she sprained her right knee after knocking it because a bus she was travelling on had suddenly braked.

In 2004, she said she was again injured when the driver suddenly braked. This time, she sued SBS Transit - albeit three years later.

Judge Chew found in her favour and awarded her about $82,000 in compensation. Even then, she is unhappy with the amount and is appealing.

From Asiaone, "'Frivolous' complaint put sisters on ban list".

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