Singapore

Private-hire operator's suit dismissed

Judge awards driver for job shortfall, deposit and legal costs

A private-hire operator which sued one of its drivers for over $600,000 for, among other things, breach of a three-year contract, has had its case dismissed by the High Court.

Mr Sylvester Lim, 40, rented a Mercedes-Benz E200 from Wolero - set up by former employees of defunct cab operator Smart Taxis - in December 2014 for $3,850 per month.

Wolero had promised Mr Lim and other drivers that they would get at least 110 ferrying jobs a month that would be sufficient to fully offset the rental.

If not, the company would compensate the drivers for the shortfall in jobs.

In mid-2015, Mr Lim demanded this compensation.

But in response, the company terminated his contract and sued him. It was around then that he also discovered his contract with the firm was illegal.

At the time, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) had ruled that "individual parties are not allowed to lease/rent private-hire cars from car rental or limousine service companies to convey members of (the) public on hire-and-reward terms".

Wolero had also sued Mr Lim for instigating other drivers to quit. It took up separate suits against four drivers, claiming around $100,000 from each of them.

Mr Lim's case went before the court last November and senior judge Tan Lee Meng this week ruled in favour of Mr Lim.

In a written judgment dated April 24, Judge Tan dismissed the case that Mr Lim had breached his contract with Wolero.

He also dismissed the case that the former taxi driver had incited other drivers to return their cars and caused Wolero a loss in earnings.

BREACHED AGREEMENT

The judge said that "Wolero was not entitled to terminate the contract on Aug 11, 2015", and that it was Wolero which had breached its hire agreement with Mr Lim.

On whether Mr Lim coerced others to quit, the court heard that he shared what he learnt from official communication with the LTA - that their contracts were illegal - via a WhatsApp group chat.

But he made it clear in his messages that it was entirely up to each driver to decide what course of action to take.

Judge Tan ruled that Wolero had "failed to plead the alleged unlawful means" adopted by Mr Lim and "did not show how the freedom of the four drivers to deal with Wolero has been interfered with". He thus dismissed this case, too.

The judge awarded Mr Lim $1,890 for the Wolero job shortfall and $3,000 for a deposit he placed with the company when he started.

The total amount of $4,890 was what Mr Lim claimed from Wolero originally.

Judge Tan also awarded him legal costs, which have yet to be determined.

Mr Lim, represented by Ms Reshma Nair and Ms Michelle Chew of TSMP Law Corp, told The Straits Times that he felt relieved.

"It's been 1½ years. I've been anxious, thinking about the case every day," he said.

"I regret signing up with Wolero. I'm now driving with Grab and Uber, using my own car."

Wolero could not be reached for comment.

courtLand Transport Authorityuber