TABLE TALK WITH TEO WENG KIE
The Managing Director of Securus Legal reflects on the Singapore Actuarial Tables and the importance of an upcoming seminar devoted to them.
In his 32 years as a personal injury lawyer, Mr Teo Weng Kie has met numerous people who have suffered unimaginable injuries, including a quadriplegic taxi driver who testified in open court while lying on a specially modified hospital bed.
It has become more commonplace for Defendant counsel to meet with these victims at mediation sessions. Weng Kie, who acts mostly for the tortfeasor’s insurer, feels that though no amount of money can buy back the life that they once had, such sessions present a good opportunity to convey that a fair resolution can sometimes help in the healing process. “I think the key is to not be inauthentic during the meeting. I try to convey off the bat that we can’t pretend that we truly understand what they are going through, but that we are trying our best to understand it so that we can make a fair offer.”
“If the matter has to be fought, an understanding helps us to make submissions that are hopefully fair. If one makes unfair submissions, the court will not be with you” adds Weng Kie, the Chair of SAL’s Personal Injuries and Personal Damages Working Group.
It is at these mediation meetings that parties often determine how these victims are compensated, and if that is not possible, the court will then decide. The judicial multiplier method was once used to calculate these sums, but that has since given way to the Singapore Actuarial Tables, described as the single most significant development in the law on assessment of personal injury damages in the past 30 years.
Weng Kie, who sat on the law reform committee that created the tables, welcomes the development, calling the tables more “scientific” than their predecessor. But he notes that they have also raised fair questions. These take the spotlight at an upcoming half-day seminar, where speakers will debate and deliberate issues such as: to take into account vicissitudes other than mortality, should there be an additional discounter to reduce the award as computed by the tables? Should the tables be applied to non-residents and if not, what can be done to improve future awards for such litigants? Do the tables apply to Loss of Inheritance claims?
The seminar also ends with a networking event, allowing PIPD practitioners to connect with one another after the pandemic. “I think most of us relish such opportunities, since the PIPD Bar is a close-knit one,” says Weng Kie.
“Even if members of the legal community have different views on a matter, I think we will debate with a ‘legal heart’, if you understand me. That makes for very engaging and enlightening discussion, which is what I think participants can look forward to next week. So I would say this —whether you’re a law student, a judicial officer, a lawyer representing victims or insurers— join us and share what’s on your mind with regards to the actuarial tables. We will all benefit from that.”
THE NEXT CHAPTER
As someone who has benefited from strong mentorship in the past, what advice does he have for others looking to make it as a personal injury lawyer? It pays to remember that at the end of the day, you’re dealing with people and human tragedies, he reflects.
“Whether you are on the side opposing higher compensation, or on the side seeking it, remember that you are dealing with the personal tragedy of a personal injury victim and his family. Don’t be too far removed from the human element. At the same time, if you represent a Defendant, think about your client’s personal conflict – would the liability resolution be fair to him? Was he truly at fault, or was he really fully at fault? Will he be able to face his family when the internet reports that he was responsible for causing the demise or serious injury of someone else?”
Witnessing as many tragedies as he has, does it make him wonder about his own mortality? “I wouldn't really tie it back to the work that I do. When young, some of us may have that arrogance of youth, whether we’re a personal injury lawyer or a corporate lawyer or a conveyancing lawyer. Then, when we all get older, we start to think about what lies ahead—and maybe even what lies beyond. It's a larger point of life that all human beings go through, regardless of the work that we do.”
Weng Kie delivers the opening remarks at Life is Like a Box of Chocolates: Our Singapore Actuarial Tables – Practices Today and What May Lie Ahead, held on 15 May at the State Courts Towers. Other speakers include The Honourable Senior Judge Quentin Loh; Prof Gary Chan (SMU); Mr Willy Tay (Willy Tay’s Chambers); Mr Anthony Wee (Titanium Law); Ms Viviene Sandhu (Clifford Law); Mr Colin Pakshong and representatives from the Special Need Trust Co. Register here.