Friday, June 24, 2011
Accident claims: Malaysian insurers not liable
High Court ruling here may create problems for car owners on both sides of the Causeway.
The court has held that insurers of Malaysian- registered vehicles involved in accidents in Singapore cannot be forced to pay up.
Currently, insures settle claims based on the contracts signed with the vehicle owners. But this new ruling could bring such arrangements into review.
Justice Kan Ting Chiu ruled in a judgment earlier this week that the relevant Singapore law for third-party risks and claims applies only to insurers of Singapore-registered vehicles for collisions on roads here.
Similarly, a road accident victim who seeks damages in a Malaysian court for an accident caused by a Malaysian vehicle in Singapore will also not be able to sue the Malaysian insurer in a Malaysian court for the same reasons.
This means that accident victims can pursue the claim against only the offending motorist, and not against the latter's insurer.
But insurers and lawyers The Straits Times spoke to said that while the judge had made clear the position in law, in practice, insurers are still obliged to honour such claims based on the contracts signed with their clients.
General Insurance Association president Derek Teo told The Straits Times on Wednesday that he had contacted his Malaysian counterpart at Persatuan Insurans Am Malaysia, the body representing Malaysia's insurers, about the court case.
'They have confirmed that such contracts with the owners of Malaysian-registered vehicles provide for coverage of accidents and third-party claims that occur in Singapore or for up to 160km beyond the Thai border,' Mr Teo said.
Senior lawyer Niru Pillai, who represents several insurers on both sides of the Causeway, said the contract signed between the insurer and the insured obliges the insurer to pay up, and it is sacrosanct. 'The judgment does not accord with the practical realities on the ground. The fact of the matter is, insurers do not walk away from their contractual liabilities.'
In the case for which the judgment was delivered, Malaysian motorcyclist Lee Choon Keng, 30, had serious leg injuries after a collision with a Malaysian-registered motor trailer and a Singapore car. The accident occurred on Jan 13, 2006, along the Ayer Rajah Expressway. Mr Lee subsequently sued the drivers of both vehicles.
He sought to get his suit transferred to the High Court, obtain judgment and apply to enforce it in Malaysia.
Justice Kan turned down the move and held that Mr Lee can enforce any judgment from the Subordinate Courts obtained against the defendant, and enforce it in Malaysia without having the action transferred to the High Court.
But 'he will not be able to enforce any judgment against the first defendant's (driver of Malaysian- registered motor trailer) insurers even if the action is transferred to the High Court and the judgment is registered in Malaysia', said the judge.
Hoh Law Corporation's Ms Margaret Neo, who represented Mr Lee, said: 'We are looking into the wider ramifications of the judgment.'