SINGAPORE: A former cabin crew member is seeking more than S$1.7 million (US$1.26 million) in damages from Singapore Airlines after allegedly slipping on a grease patch and falling while on board a carrier.
Mr Durairaj Santiran, 36, was working as a galley steward on board aircraft A350 on a roughly 17-hour flight from San Francisco to Singapore on Sep 5, 2019.
The aircraft was on its last leg of its journey, about two-and-a-half hours away from Singapore when Mr Durairaj alleged that he fell backwards.
Mr Durairaj is claiming for a total of S$1,775,662.49 in damages, the bulk of which is for loss of future earnings, after he was diagnosed with a cervical disc prolapse. The former air steward, who had been with Singapore Airlines from 2016 to 2021, appeared in court on Tuesday (Feb 13) for the first day of the suit wearing a neck brace.
His case is that the national carrier had failed to provide a safe work system and a safe place to work by failing to adequately address the presence of the grease patch, hence causing the area to become unsafe.
“Had reasonable care been exercised the grease patch would have been removed or such steps taken to prevent access to the unsafe location,” said Mr Durairaj’s lawyers from East Asia Law Corporation in his opening statement.
The employer could have prevented access to the location by placing a push cart over the area, for example.
“The fact that the defendant did not take any ‘preventive measures’ is indicative of the defendant’s negligence in that the work system was inadequate and the workplace was allowed to be unsafe,” they added.
According to Mr Durairaj’s version of events, he was patrolling the aircraft after cleaners had left when he noticed a grease patch on the floor of the economy class galley near the ovens.
He informed a superior about the patch before the flight took off and was told to remove the grease patch with disinfectant cleaning spray and paper hand towel. By then, the aircraft doors had closed and recalling the cleaning crew would have caused a delay.
Mr Durairaj then tried to remove the grease patch but could not do so and informed the same superior, who told him and the rest of the cabin crew to be careful of the patch. The superior said she would raise the issue in a cabin defect log.
After take-off and before the first meal service, the superior instructed cabin crew to clean the grease patch again but the effort was unsuccessful.
Towards the last leg of the flight, Mr Durairaj was serving passengers when he slipped on the patch and fell hard on his back, hitting the back of his head on the floor, according to his lawyers.
The flight attendant was incapacitated and rested for the remainder of the flight before he was escorted out in a wheelchair at Changi Airport. He had an MRI scan done on Sep 10, 2019 and was diagnosed with a cervical disc prolapse, or a slipped disc.
Singapore Airlines, represented by law firm Niru and Co LLC, argued that there was no grease patch and that if Mr Durairaj slipped and fell, it was not on the grease patch.
If Mr Durairaj had slipped and fallen from a grease patch, these did not cause the injuries, loss and damages he claimed for and he had not offered evidence on what Singapore Airlines could have done to avoid liability, the lawyers said.
CROSS EXAMINATION OF PLAINTIFF
On Tuesday, Mr Durairaj took the stand at the High Court and was cross-examined by Singapore Airlines’ lawyer Liew Teck Huat.
Parties argued over when Mr Durairaj had seen the stain and when he had informed his superior about it.
Mr Liew questioned Mr Durairaj on the scope of his pre-flight checks, to which the former air steward said he had to check switches, safety equipment and meals of the passengers, with cleanliness as a last priority.
Mr Liew suggested that Mr Durairaj would have noticed the floor was slippery, dirty or stained when he was doing his checks, but Mr Durairaj said he did not notice the patch at the time.
Mr Durairaj testifed in court that when he noticed the grease patch, he tried to clean it up with a paper towel before informing his superior. However Mr Liew pointed out that this was not what he had stated in his affidavit.
“You said you informed (your superior) … then she told u to clean it up, but now your version is you saw the grease patch, you tried to clean it up before you told her but you could not remove it, then you told her about this,” Mr Liew pointed out.
Mr Durairaj disagreed that the account was different, simply that he cleaned the area with a paper towel initially.
At this point, Justice Vinodh Coomaraswamy also noted that Mr Durairaj had not mentioned cleaning the area prior to notifying his superior, and that his testimony in court differed from his affidavit.
Mr Durairaj then agreed the versions were different.
The judge also pointed out that Mr Durairaj’s affidavit stated that the superior had asked the crew members to clean the patch.
However Mr Durairaj clarified in court that he had been the only one asked to clean the patch.
The trial continues on Tuesday afternoon with the cross examination of Mr Durairaj.