Contracts determine what legal action SMRT can take against ex-staff

This article is more than 12 months old

The legal actions that SMRT can take against two former employees linked to last month's MRT tunnel flooding depend on the terms of their contract.

The rail operator can also sue for damages caused by negligence, although this will be challenging, said legal experts.

On Monday, SMRT said it had found 13 workers responsible for failing to maintain an anti-flooding system, which led to the tunnel between Bishan and Braddell stations becoming flooded on Oct 7, causing a major service disruption. Some of the workers were found to have falsified maintenance records.

Eight were sacked, one demoted, and disciplinary action was taken against another two, it was revealed on Monday.

Then vice-president Tay Tien Seng and senior manager Ivan Kok, who quit after the flooding incident, were found to have not exercised sufficient supervision during the seven months when records were falsified.

On Monday, SMRT said it "reserves its right to pursue legal action against them as may be appropriate".

On the kinds of legal options open to SMRT, lawyer Wayne Ong told The Straits Times yesterday: "If there were duties that the employees should have carried out - as described in their contract - and the employees did not do so, then it could be a breach of the contract."

Mr Ong said it did not matter that the employees had quit as they were contractually bound when the breaches occurred.

Mr S. Sundaram, a partner at RHTLaw Taylor Wessing, said the workers' employment contracts may contain a term in which SMRT is allowed to pursue legal recourse if they are found to be grossly negligent in performing their job.

Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan said SMRT could sue for compensation for the damage to and the repair of ill-maintained equipment, if it can be proven that these were the "direct and foreseeable consequence of the staff members' deliberate dereliction of duties or wilful negligence".

But this is unlikely as it is challenging to succeed on this ground in court, and the probability of receiving damages is low, Prof Tan said.

Taking legal action may have other repercussions for SMRT.

Prof Tan said: "Ultimately, responsibility for the flooding lies solely with SMRT...

"The mere threat of and actual resort to legal action may also dramatically backfire, considering the negative public opinion and low staff morale."