Property owners are not expected to supervise the work of contractors whom they hire, revealed the High Court in rejecting a move by a neighbour to make a homeowner liable for the damages caused by the contractor.
“It would be intolerable if the law were to hold that all landowners who seek to construct homes on their property would have a duty to look continually over the shoulders of the independent contractors they hire to ensure that they take reasonable care in the performance of their tasks,” said Judicial Comissioner See Kee Oon.
The case arose after Munib Mohammed Madni hired Esthetix Design to demolish his three-storey house in Jalan Lim Tai See in September 2011, and build a three-storey detached unit with a swimming pool and basement, reported The Straits Times.
During the demolition work, debris hit the boundary wall of neighbour Ng Huat Seng’s house, located in front and down a slope.
Some debris also hit Ng’s house, damaging four air-con condenser units and breaking window panes, among others.
Ng sued both Esthetix and Munib for negligence in the State Courts. While he won $136,796 and costs against Esthertix in 2015, District Judge Seah Chi Ling did not hold Munib and his wife Zahrah Ayub liable for negligence as they had exercised reasonable care in outsourcing work to the contractor.
Not satisfied with the decision, Ng appealed to the High Court, arguing that Esthetix was not an independent contractor, which makes Munib indirectly liable as his employer.
His lawyers claimed that the work done in Munib’s property was “ultra-hazardous”, hence, the duty of care cannot be delegated by the property owner to the contractor.
Munib, on the other hand, claimed that the works performed in his property were not “ultra-hazardous” and that Esthetix was an independent contractor.
In deciding the case, the judge said Munib was not indirectly liable since Esthetix was an independent contractor given that it hired its own staff, took out its own insurance and dealt with various consultants and sub-contractors in its own name.
Despite the relative elevations of both properties and the demolition work being done near Ng’s house, the judge ruled that it was not a “dangerous operation in its intrinsic nature”.
Ng, through his lawyers, is looking to appeal the case to the apex court.