Wet market liable for oil splatter that led to woman’s fall and injury

A woman who slipped and suffered a tailbone fracture while walking along a corridor in a wet market will receive compensation after a district judge placed 65 per cent blame on the owner and operator of the premises.

The court found Heeton Holdings, which operates the privately owned wet market at Tampines Mart, and Heeton Estate, which owns Tampines Mart, to be jointly liable to pay damages to be assessed later.

Oil which had splattered onto the floor from someone cooking at an untenanted stall was in part to blame for the fall, the court found.

“There are few known falls in a wet market perhaps because visitors know to walk with measured paces and careful balance because of present slip risks,” said District Judge Loo Ngan Chor.

“It is noteworthy that the complaint before me was really not about a wet floor causing the plaintiff to slip and fall,” he added in judgment grounds last month.

The mishap occurred on Aug 5, 2011, at about 3pm as Ms Angela Lim, then 32, was walking along the corridor when she slipped and landed painfully on her behind.

Ms Lim, who was with her boyfriend Chee Jin Cheng, suffered injuries including a fracture in her sacrum (tailbone) for which she received treatment at a hospital.

While on the floor, she detected oil where she sat.

She sued the defendants for breach of duty of care in failing to ensure the wet market was operated in a safe manner so as not to cause danger.

Her lawyers Raeza Ibrahim and Jonathan Cheah argued, among other things, that the tenant of a stall she walked past had occupied an untenanted stall on the other side of the corridor, which “resulted in the corridor being oily”.

Unlike in a hawker centre, the stalls were not enclosed.

Photographs taken by her boyfriend showed the presence of gas cylinders, two huge pots atop stoves and someone engaged in stirring one of the pots.

This led the judge to “infer that there was in fact cooking going on at that stall which was meant to be untenanted and vacant”.

It emerged during the two-day trial earlier this year that Ms Lim had taken a route just outside a stall where the cooking was taking place, stepping on the first two tiles which were sloped down slightly to the floor.

The judge noted that “no cooking is allowed within the wet market, neither, as a matter of policy by the National Environment Agency, nor by the defendants”.

District Judge Loo also found that the type of cooking that was going on in the untenanted stall did probably cause oil to splatter. “The defendants breached their duty of care to ensure a safe wet market when they failed to enforce the rule against cooking,” he said.

Defence lawyer Ramasamy Chettiar argued that Ms Lim contributed to the negligence in not explaining if she had walked with care.

The judge held Ms Lim should have walked “with more care, in a gingerly way, if you like, since she was entering a wet market. If she had done this, I do not think that she would have fallen because of an invisible splatter of oil from nearby cooking”.

He assigned 35 per cent blame to Ms Lim for the fall – which means when damages are separately assessed, she stands to get 65 per cent of the awarded sum. Personal injury claims in State Court are for awards of up to $250,000.

Both parties are appealing the decision.