Obtaining Compensation for Workplace Injuries in Singapore
Everybody is susceptible to workplace injuries in one form or another.
In 2012, a total of 11,113 incidents of workplace injury were reported. Almost 30 injuries a day. This is up from 10,121 in 2011.  Given the frequency of such incidents, and their possibly severe implications, employers and employees both ought to be aware of the remedies that follow.
There are two sources of compensation for work-related injuries – workmen’s compensation under the Work Injury Compensation Act (WICA) or through a civil suit.
Victims can apply for remedies under either one, but not both.
The WICA is a compensation scheme that operates alongside employers’ insurance policies for workmen’s compensation in the event of a work-related injury.  It is a quicker and simpler process as compared to claims under common law.
Under the WICA, insurers (or if uninsured then the employer), must pay the injured employee even if the accident was caused or contributed by the employee. The amount depends on the extent of injury suffered. All medical expenses within the year after the accident are covered by the scheme, or up to $30,000, whichever is earlier.
In cases where the injury permanently affects the victim’s ability to work, the maximum amount payable will be $218,000 multiplied by the percentage loss of earning capacity. The actual amount will be determined by a combination of the employee’s earnings, age and injury. All figures are correct at the time this article was published.
For example, a 62 year old employee suffers an injury that will require the amputation of one leg. Based on the MOM formula, the loss of a leg is equivalent to 65% permanent incapacity and the age multiplier of a 62 year old is 92 . Therefore, the maximum payout he can receive is 65% X $218,000 = $141,700.
To get his actual payout, we multiply his earnings per month, the age multiplier and the percentage of permanent incapacity. This gives us 3,000 X 92 X 0.65 = 179,400. However, since this exceeds the maximum payout, he will receive only $141,700.
Domestic servants, freelancers and employees under the Singapore Armed Forces, Police Force, Civil Defence Force, Singapore Prison Service and Central Narcotics Bureau are not covered under WICA.
Claiming compensation under the common law is more complex – the victim sues the employee for compensation. The employee must convince the court that his employer is liable for his injuries due to his employer’s negligence.
Four elements must be satisfied:
First, the employee must prove that there existed a duty of care by employer. If the employee has proof that he was acting in the capacity of an employee, and demonstrates that the injury was foreseeable, a duty of care may be established. Note that the injury only needs to be foreseeable; it does not need to be likely.
Second, the employee must prove that there was a breach of this duty of care on the part of the employee. As long as the employer fails to meet reasonable standards of safety and protect its employees in a manner that is proportionate to the risk they undergo, a breach may be proven.
Third, the employee must prove that the injury was caused by this breach. If an employer fails to give an employee gloves, but he slips on a wet floor and breaks his arm, there is no causation. The right breach must be linked to the harm.
Finally, the damage cannot be too remote (i.e. far-fetched). Three elements influence the remoteness of damage – whether the damage was reasonably foreseeable, how directly the harm is linked to the negligence, and whether there was third party intervention. 
The employer may raise several defences. These include the voluntary assumption of risk, the argument that the injury occurred despite him having taken all due care to prevent it, and that the employee was at fault in causing the accident to occur (contributory negligence). These defences will not relieve the employer of his liability. They will however, reduce the total amount of damages payable to the victim.
The above four elements have been simplified and summarized for the sake of brevity; significant nuances and exceptions exist. Interested individuals should read up more on negligence rather than rely solely on the explanations offered herein.
Comparing the two
Which source of compensation should an injured employee turn to? It depends on several factors.
Claiming compensation under the WICA is more efficient. There is no need to look for a lawyer or to commence legal proceedings.
If you proceed with a civil suit there will be legal costs, even if the claim succeeds. Furthermore, legal proceedings can last very long. Cases that go on appeal can span several years. Victims must bear at least some of the costs in the interim.
Also, one technically cannot “lose” a case under the WICA as compensation will be made regardless of fault. However, in a civil suit, if the employer launches an effective defence, a victim may end up getting much less compensation that he would under the WICA.
Finally, and most importantly, the maximum payout limits under the WICA and its sole focus on the extent of one’s injury means a victim may receive much less compensation as compared to pursuing the case under common law. Under common law, one may claim for more than just the pain and suffering caused by the injury. This includes claims for loss of future income, loss of earning capacity, loss of amenities, transport costs, medical costs etc.
For example, a 35 year old employee who earns $6,500 a month loses an entire thumb (35% permanent incapacity) in a work accident. He can now only do simple work, earning him $3,500 a month. The maximum payout would be 35% X $218,000 = $76,000.00. If he were to make a claim under common law, the quantum of damages may be up to:
$25,000 (pain and suffering) + $3,000 (medical costs) + $500 (transport costs) + $13,000 (loss of income X 2 months of M.C.) + $1,152,000 (loss of earning capacity)
= $1,193,500 X .33 
This is of course just an example. The actual quantum will differ from case to case. However, as you can observe, many important elements are taken into account in determining the appropriate payout as compared to compensation under the WICA.
To conclude, a claim under the WICA is more appropriate if the employee is largely at fault for the accident, and if his salary is low. This is because it concerns itself only with injury and not fault. Furthermore, an employee with a lower salary is less likely to have a claim that exceeds the maximum payout limit (e.g. the scenario in paragraph 5). However, a victim of an accident where the employer is largely or entirely at fault, and whose wages are relatively higher ought to pursue the case under the common law as it takes more elements into consideration in deciding on a fair amount of compensation, and unlike the WICA, has no maximum limit.
(Editor: If you belong to a union – all these steps are made very much simpler: lodge a complaint with your branch officials and they will take care of the rest. Further, members will get additional assistance, ranging from hardship grants to various other gifts and job placement assistance. The job of the union also is to prevent these accidents from ever happening.)
 For example, employer who provides unsteady furniture cannot be sued for the death of an employee who suffers a heart attack after being startled by the angry yells of another employee who fell from a chair. The damage is indirect, not reasonably foreseeable and experienced a third party intervention.
 Courts will reduce the payout by a percentage in order to take into account the fact that the victim will receive monies supposedly earned in the future today. The “discount” for this “advanced payment” is called acceleration.