Passenger not liable when driver falls asleep at wheel: High Court

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The High Court has dismissed a claim by the defence that a passenger should share the blame for injuries he had suffered because he did not do enough to stop the driver, whom he knew to be sleepy.

Before Mr Leow Ban Yee lost control of the van and ran into a tree in a slip road along Upper Thomson, his passenger Raymond Ang saw that he had fallen asleep while his hands were on the steering wheel of the moving vehicle.

The court heard that when Mr Ang called out to him, Mr Leow opened his eyes, but the issue is whether Mr Ang saw him doze off again, and if he was bound to keep watch on the driver.

The case called into question a point with no apparent local precedent - the contributory negligence of a belted passenger in a scenario where the driver has fallen asleep at the wheel.

Judicial Commissioner Pang Khang Chau on Monday (Aug 7) found the defendant company and the van driver wholly liable in this case and awarded Mr Ang about $390,000 in damages payable.

Mr Ang, 61, had sued the van owner, ABT Medical Products, and Mr Leow for multiple injuries suffered in the July 20 accident two years ago, seeking compensation for medical expenses, loss of earnings, and other current and future costs.

The former operations assistant now walks with a limp which dampens his job prospects.

The defendants represented by lawyer Mahendra Prasad Rai argued, among other things, that Mr Ang was also to blame as he had failed to act in time to ask the driver to stop when he noticed him dozing off, or to ensure he did not fall asleep again.

The driver was not called to testify during the three-day trial in January.

Lawyers Viviene Sandhu and Joyce Ooi, in denying the claims, pointed out in submissions that their client Mr Ang had testified he had asked the driver to let him out of the van when he saw the driver falling asleep, but Mr Leow refused.

Judicial Commissioner Pang said it would be " intolerable and bordering on the unreasonable" for the court to impose a duty of care on a passenger in such circumstances, as Mr Ang had done what he could under the circumstances.

COURT & CRIMEaccident