Singapore—Lawyer Moi Sok Ling must have thought that after settling the protracted lawsuit and obtaining compensation for injuries and loss of income she suffered as a result of a road traffic accident in 2014, that she could finally put the ordeal behind her.
However, after details of her private lawsuit were publicised, Ms Moi has been harassed online and issued with hate mail and threats, all of which she directly connects to various news articles published in the Straits Times, the New Paper, Lianhe Zaobao, Lianhe Wanbao and Shin Min Daily News in September and November 2019 concerning her claim.
On 10 September 2019, the various news articles reported that the lawyer had been in an accident on January 2, 2014 on her way to the very first day at her new job at Becton Dickinson, when her Hyundai Getz hatchback was hit by a Mercedes taxi driven by Aw Ah Sing along the Pan-Island Expressway towards Tuas.
These news articles gave the impression that Ms Moi was seeking a “record” claim from the taxi driver when in reality, the compensation (which is not an unprecedented amount) was sought from the taxi driver’s insurer, First Capital Insurance Limited, and not from the driver personally. In fact, the insurance company’s lawyer had challenged her claim at every stage, and it was a battle of David and Goliath for Ms Moi going up against a corporate giant.
The trial to establish liability for the accident, which took place in 2015, lasted for two days, during which the insurance company questioned Ms Moi at length and sought to attack her credibility, with one of the trial days lasting until 10:00 pm. Ms Foo Tuat Yien, then-Judicial Commissioner, ruled in her favour, stating that Mr Aw was 100 percent responsible for causing the accident. The insurance company thereafter sought to fight Ms Moi on the sum to be compensated.
The chronic pain resulting from the injuries to her spine and intervertebral discs had adversely affectedly Ms Moi’s work productivity and job performance, leading to her claims for loss of pre-trial and future earnings and loss of earning capacity, and not for disruption to her career progression or promotional prospects as these news articles had reported.
Ms Moi suffered long-lasting effects from the collision even after a number of weeks of medical and hospitalisation leave, and still undergoes physiotherapy and acupuncture sessions now. She has spent about $100,000 for the cost of medical treatment in the past 5 years and may need spinal surgery in the future that would cost about $200,000.
She has also incurred legal costs and disbursements estimated at $160,000.
After the lawsuit was amicably settled at mediation, ST reported on 15 November 2019 that the case had been “dropped”, suggesting a lack in merits in her claim, and again made no direct mention of the insurance company, First Capital Insurance Limited.
Many users commenting on the Facebook pages of the various news articles expressed outrage that she had sued a taxi driver, unaware that it was the taxi driver’s insurer who would shoulder the damages and whom she had been dealing with from the beginning, especially because articles about her case that appeared in Lianhe Zaobao, Lianhe Wanbao, and Shin Min Daily News indicated that Mr Aw would be “fully responsible” (translated) and that the settlement would come “tragically out of pocket” (translated). In these articles, “lawyers for the taxi driver” are mentioned, instead of “lawyers for the taxi driver’s insurer”.
Furthermore, Ms Moi had received hate mail from a stranger who identified himself as Aaron Heng. The writer of the email asked for Ms Moi’s car license plate, claiming that he would want to avoid her on the road as he did not have money to pay her in case they got into an accident, again demonstrating the misperception that it was the taxi driver who would pay Ms Moi for the damages. The email was copied to the management of Allen & Gledhill LLP, the law firm where she previously worked, as well as to Senior Minister of State for Law and Health, Mr Edwin Tong and Law Society President, Mr Gregory Vijayendran. Ms Moi was advised to file a police report as she felt that her personal safety could be compromised.
Due to a lack of clarity in the various news articles published about her case, Ms Moi has been portrayed as someone who is greedy and heartless, taking advantage of a taxi driver with modest financial means. Ms Moi was distressed by the online hatred. Even her friends and business associates questioned her motives for the accident claim, and this has severely undermined her professional reputation.
According to Ms Moi, ST had reached out to ask for the court papers before the first report came out on September 10th of this year. Through her lawyers, she communicated to ST her concern that any publicity then might jeopardize the settlement negotiations with the insurance company and offered instead an exclusive interview after a settlement was reached. Despite this, ST went ahead with publication.
Before the November 15th article was published, ST again reached out to her lawyers, who conveyed Ms Moi’s distress and concerns about the statements contained in the earlier news articles. A meeting was set between her and the news editor of ST to discuss possible corrective actions, but ST published the second story before the meeting took place.
Left with no choice, Ms Moi had since instructed her lawyers to issue a letter on December 2019 to request that the Singapore Press Holdings have its editors of the various news media publish clarification statements concerning her accident claim. When contacted, her lawyers said, “Our client remains hopeful that SPH will do the right and responsible thing to resolve this issue satisfactorily.” -/TISG