Government dentist awarded HK$21 million for overwork

Yeung Lai Ping v Secretary for Justice, HCPI 833/2002 [2019]

In this case, the Plaintiff was already suffering from occupational related wrist pain and was wearing a working splint when she suffered an attrition injury to the triangular fibrocartilage complex (TFC) of the right wrist following three surgical extraction operations (SX) one morning. She alleges that the wrist injury was caused by excessive workload, which put an end to her dental career.

Liability was strongly contested. Her employer, Department of Health (DOH) argued that her workload was normal and her injury was not caused by the SX or other dental work. The Court disagreed and found that she was assigned more than twice the amount of SX that four other dentists had to perform during the same period. The DOH knew or ought to have known that repetitive strenuous wrist movements could cause upper limb disorders in dental personnel and that it was foreseeable that assigning the Plaintiff to perform three SX that morning may cause damage to her right wrist that had been injured previously.

On the question of causation, the Mr Justice Bharwaney said that even if he were to accept that her work was only 20% to blame for the TFC injury and that the structural variance of her wrist was 80% responsible, that was sufficient to establish that her work was a material cause of the TFC injury.  In such case, the thin skull rule would apply and there would be no apportionment on causation.

On quantum, the DOH sought a discount of 75% on account of the Plaintiff’s pre-exiting vulnerability and greater propensity to develop carpal tunnel syndrome. The Court declined to allow any discount as it was of the view she would have qualified as a prosthodontist if not for the TFC injury.

Damages was awarded at nearly $21.5m inclusive of EC, of which $16m was for loss of earnings and some $4.8m for loss of pension.

Click here for the Hong Kong Personal Injury Brief July 2019 Edition.