QC calls for boost to damages payouts

LAWYERS representing a teenager who was severely brain damaged when she was knocked down by a bus yesterday called for a massive increase in awards to accident victims.

Chu Kam-hing is suing Kowloon Motor Bus and driver Leung On for up to $10 million on behalf of her daughter, Chan Pui-ki.

Pui-ki, who was 10 at the time of the accident in 1989, suffered horrific head injuries. She is unlikely to be able to work.

John Griffiths QC asked the High Court yesterday to increase the amount of damages paid to accident victims in light of the territory's rapid economic growth.

He said awards in Hong Kong should be brought into line with those made by British courts.

Under guidelines laid down in the early 1980s, Mr Justice Cons said damages should be lower than in Britain because of the lower standard of living.

But Mr Griffiths produced a wealth of statistics yesterday to prove Hong Kong had raced ahead of Britain in the past 15 years.

Life expectancy is longer, salaries are higher and people are better educated.

In 1980, the average income for the territory's lowest earners was half that in Britain.

But, last year, Hong Kong workers at the bottom of the ladder earned 1.4 times as much as their British counterparts.

Life expectancy and the number of doctors per capita were also higher than in Britain.

But awards for damages, which include compensation for loss of future earnings, have not been adjusted.

'Social and economic conditions were very different in 1980,' Mr Griffiths said.

'Fifteen years on, people in Hong Kong live longer than in the United Kingdom, educational opportunities are better than in the UK, and incomes are higher than in the UK.

'It is appropriate the same levels of compensation should now apply.' Mr Griffiths told the court Pui-ki was two paces from the pavement when she was knocked down by a bus driven by Mr Leung as she crossed Chui Tin Street in Sha Tin on April 22, 1989.

Before the accident, she was a slim, lively child, popular with her classmates and of above average intelligence. She now has an IQ of 86, is obese, clumsy and emotionally unstable.

Mr Griffiths said Pui-ki would never be totally independent.

The most she could hope to earn was $500 a month in a special workshop for the handicapped.

Pui-ki was in a coma for 12 days and stayed in hospital for three months.

Doctors say she could still develop epilepsy as a result of her injuries.

After the accident, Ms Chu, a clerk, was forced to give up her afternoon job to care for her daughter.

Her husband, salesman Chan Tin-sang, was also forced to quit work for eight months to care for Pui-ki.

The family claimed the accident was caused by negligence because Mr Leung, 37, was driving too fast and failed to keep a proper lookout.

In September 1989, Kowloon Motor Bus was convicted at Sha Tin Court of using a vehicle with defective brakes and fined $1,500.

In the past year, compensation awards to accident victims and their families have ranged from $300,000 to $6.8 million.

It is thought the level of damages in Hong Kong is 25 per cent lower than in Britain.

The hearing, before Mr Justice Cheung, is expected to last seven days.