NTUC Foodfare loses suit over cafe closure

NTUC Foodfare loses suit over cafe closure
A High Court judge has thrown out NTUC Foodfare’s S$443,000 suit against SIA Engineering over an accident caused by the latter’s employee that led to the eatery operator having to shut a cafe at Changi Airport for more than five months. Photo: TODAY file photo

NTUC Foodfare loses suit over cafe closure

SINGAPORE - A High Court judge has throw out NTUC Foodfare’s S$443,000 suit over an accident caused by SIA Engineering’s employee that led to the eatery operator having to shut a cafe at Changi Airport for more than five months.

While the closure resulted from the accident that damaged a pillar of the building, Justice Debbie Ong said ordering compensation in favour of NTUC Foodfare was as good as saying it could rely “on the defendants (and everyone in the world) not to interrupt their business”.

In her written judgment made public this week, the judge said the closure of NTUC Foodfare’s Wang Cafe outlet at the T2 transit lounge were but “ripple effects” of a vehicle crashing into a pillar underneath the eatery. The effects were also something other business operators in the affected area similarly faced, she added.

The accident on Feb 13, 2014 was caused by Mr Yap Tee Chuan, an employee of SIA Engineering who was driving a ground handling vehicle.

The pillar he crashed into was one floor below Wang Cafe and the collision had caused part of the floor near the eatery to cave in.

The following day, the Building and Construction Authority issued a closure notice for the airport’s contractors to carry out rectification works to ensure the building’s structural integrity.

The order was lifted on July 30, but unlike other businesses in the affected area, Wang Cafe did not reopen on Aug 7 because it did not satisfy the airport’s safety requirements.

In particular, the Changi Airport Group (CAG) had raised concerns about damage to the kiosk’s waterproofing membrane and its existing support structure.

While the CAG was prepared to let the café resume operations if it could engage a qualified person or professional engineer to endorse its overall safety and operational readiness, NTUC Foodfare decided to undertake a renovation. It reopened in November.

NTUC Foodfare later sued Mr Yap and SIA Engineering for loss of profits, costs of repairing damaged equipment and rebuilding the kiosk, as well as rental during the period.

Dismissing the suit, Justice Ong said it was “factually foreseeable” that Mr Yap’s negligence “may cause harm” to users of the building, but he does not owe a “duty of care” to NTUC Foodfare.

NTUC Foodfare’s claims to recover damages in rebuilding the kiosk are “remote”, said Justice Ong, noting that these costs were incurred not due to any proven damage to the kiosk but to satisfy the CAG’s requirements.

“It has not been proven that the kiosk’s structure or waterproof membrane were damaged or compromised by the collision,” she said, adding that the rebuilding of the kiosk was a “precautionary measure” taken to prevent the possibility of future safety issues.

Costs incurred during the renovation period, including rent, are thus “pure economic loss”, ruled the judge.

She also found that damages sustained by equipment in the café — including an ice maker, a chiller, an electric toaster, and a water boiler, among others — were due to dust, rust and the lack of electricity supply and other utilities when the affected area was forced to close.

Justice Ong said the risk of losses NTUC Foodfare suffered should be “spread out throughout society through the engine of insurance”.

Noting that NTUC Foodfare was indeed insured in respect of the kiosk’s damaged equipment and loss of gross profits, the judge added: “It would be disproportionate for (Mr Yap) and vicariously (SIA Engineering) to bear not only the costs of the immediate and direct consequences of the collision, but also the losses caused to all persons who had relationship to the damaged property.”

In response to TODAY’s queries, NTUC Foodfare said its management was reviewing the judgment with its stakeholders and “shall decide on any subsequent recourse”, without elaborating.