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Hong Kong courts

Top Hong Kong climber left wheelchair-bound after road accident sues two drivers involved for tens of millions of dollars

  • Two-time Asian champion Lai Chi-wai, 36, was riding home on his motorcycle when hit by two vehicles in 2011
  • Lai is claiming up to an eight-digit figure in compensation from the two over the loss of his ability to work and for medical treatment
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 January, 2019, 8:52pm
UPDATED : Friday, 11 January, 2019, 12:38pm

An elite Hong Kong rock climber left wheelchair-bound after a 2011 traffic accident is suing the two drivers involved for tens of millions of dollars in compensation.

Testifying at the High Court on Thursday, Lai Chi-wai, 36, who once ranked in the top 10 in world climbing tournaments, recalled how the car crash on Tuen Mun Road affected his then soaring career.

Lai, a paraplegic, kept his climbing instructor’s licence and became a Hong Kong team coach for two years after the accident. But he said he felt he was only given that chance because the climbing union feared it would be accused of discrimination if it revoked his licence.

Before the crash, Lai said, he considered becoming a designer of climbing routes as one of his career moves.

“But after I got injured in the accident I was unable to get the licence to do that,” he said.

Lai was riding his motorcycle towards Tuen Mun, where he lives, on the night of December 9, 2011, when he was hit by two vehicles, driven by Tong Hung-kwok and Tsui Siu-fai.

Paraplegic rock climber’s journey from ‘heaven to hell’ and back again

Lai, represented by Neville Sarony SC, is claiming as much as an eight-digit figure in compensation from the two over the loss of his ability to work and for treatment, including the possibility of getting robotic limbs. The exact amount has yet to be quantified.

The climber looked less bulky than he did in a photograph featured in a 2017 Post article, which was shown to judge Mr Justice Mohan Bharwaney during the trial.

The court heard that Lai began his rock climbing journey when he was 17 years old. Six months later, he won his first youth tournament in Beijing, which prompted him to join the Hong Kong Sports Institute to further pursue the passion.

He came first in the Asian Rock Climbing Championships in 2002 and 2003, and ranked fourth in the world series in 2005, and eighth the following year.

Lai also began his coaching career in 2006 after qualifying for an instructor’s licence, he said.

However, following the accident the conditions on his licence changed and he could only teach when accompanied by a licensed able-bodied coach, Lai said.

He believed the China Hong Kong Mountaineering and Climbing Union only let him keep his licence due to external pressure.

“They might be thinking that after the accident if they revoked my licence immediately, they might be accused of discrimination against me,” he said.

Student Lai Chi-wai is the first to win a gold medal in climbing for Hong Kong

He went on to become a Hong Kong team instructor between 2014 and 2016. But he said he decided to quit because others began to question his abilities

“I was only able to give verbal instructions [and could not demonstrate moves],” Lai said, adding that there was nothing he could do if anything went wrong while teaching.

The trial continues on Friday.