Chan Kai Ming v. Ricacorp Properties Limited & Another (HCA 1441 / 2008)

In brief:

Chan Kai Ming (“Plaintiff”) brought several claims against his former employer, Ricacorp Properties Limited (“Defendant”) in the Labour Tribunal, Small Claims Tribunal and the High Court over a period of a few years following his summary dismissal after a fight at work. The High Court considered a number of his claims including one for breach of duty of care in relation to the employer’s failure to protect and/or take precautions in relation to the employee who fought with him.

The High Court dismissed the Plaintiff’s actions on the following basis:

  • The High Court took the view that the Plaintiff was not attacked by his colleague; rather, that they got into a fight as evidenced by the injury sustained by his colleague which was documented in his medical record.
  • Although the Plaintiff and his colleague had been in several heated arguments prior to the fight (from October 2004 to December 2004), the High Court did not consider these to be sufficient to give rise to any foreseeable risk. The previous arguments were verbal and there were no signs that any physical violence would take place.
  • The manner in which the Defendant handled the incidents namely, to ask the Plaintiff to meet in a different location and the plan to address the matter the following day was found to be appropriate.

Background

The Plaintiff had been involved in two verbal quarrels with a colleague which he had brought to the attention of his employer. The day before the fight that led to his summary dismissal, the Plaintiff and his colleague had a further heated quarrel which he notified his manager about. The Plaintiff’s line manager instructed him to meet her in person in a different location and proposed to handle the conflicts between the two members of staff the following day. However the next day a further quarrel ensued during which the Plaintiff was hit by his colleague which led to a physical fight taking place in the office and then outside. Both the Plaintiff and his colleague were summarily dismissed as a result.

Take away points:

  1. The Defendant was successful in defending against these claims primarily due to the measures that had been taken by the Plaintiff’s line manager. However in this case, the response did not need to be sophisticated given the limited time that had lapsed between the incidents taking place. Employers should carefully consider any complaints received regarding arguments between colleagues, assess risk to both parties, consider the best way to resolve the conflict (separating the parties, requesting them to attend mediation etc) and document each step taken.
  2. It is interesting to note that the breach of duty of care claim followed three years after the dismissal. This demonstrates the importance of retaining employment records as they are often pivotal to the successful defence of such claims.