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Compensation for death on work trip

Following a High Court ruling, the widow of an employee who had passed away in a hotel room in Cambodia while waiting to be taken to a meeting, may now qualify for a claim under workmen’s compensation. Compensation of up to $140,000.00 will be payable under the Work Injury Compensation Act because the man’s death, likely from a heart attack, was an accident that happened in the course of employment.

Poon Wai Tong (“Poon”) was a 52-year-old general manager with Wartsila Singapore. He had gone to Cambodia on 31 August 2008 to represent his firm at an anniversary dinner of Khmer Electrical Power (KEP) and to participate in a meeting with its officials. The day after the dinner, Poon was discovered dead when an official visited him in his hotel room to take him to the meeting.

The key issue was whether the death was a result of an accident and if it happened while he was at work. Poon’s employer had accepted that he died in the course of his work but the insurer India International Insurance had contested that. The Commission for Labour had held that there had been no evidence Poon was involved in any work prior to his death, but Justice Tay Yong Kwang held that it did not mean Poon’s death could not have occurred in the course of his work because there was no actual work done.

Justice Tay, in his written grounds, said that the Work Injury Compensation Act had to keep pace with the changing realities as more employees are heading overseas for work. The Court had held that the Act must “continue to be relevant to the realities of contemporary working environments and conditions.” The Court’s move is significant as it makes clear that those who go on entirely work-related trips will nevertheless receive the necessary protection under the Act, said Mr. N Srinivasan (HOH Law Corporation), who acted for Poon’s widow.

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