Gas blast during hotpot meal cost woman her new job

Court awards her $100,000 in damages after she suffers severe burns on face and upper limbs

Just a week after she landed a full-time job that could support her mother and herself, a gas canister exploded in her face and upended her life.

Ms Linda Er, 45, was having supper with her colleague at Chong Qing (Origin) Steamboat in Beach Road when the mishap happened on April 4, 2015.

She told The New Paper last week: “It was about a week after I got a job as a supervisor at a bar in Seah Street.

“I usually finish work at about 4.30am, but that night I knocked off at 3am. So my colleague and I decided to treat (ourselves) to supper.”

They were halfway into their meal when the switch on the portable gas stove started tripping.

After it tripped for the third time, a waitress stuffed some tissue into the switch compartment to stop the tripping.

“As we were finishing our meal, I noticed the stove fire had gone out, but I ignored it because we were full and about to head home,” said Ms Er.

“All of a sudden, there was a bang and (the gas canister) exploded. I was so shocked that I didn’t even realise my face (had been) burned.

“It was only after someone pointed it out that I touched my face and realised my skin had come off and my eyebrows were gone.”

Ms Er said her colleague and three diners at the next table had minor injuries.

She suffered flash burns on 13 per cent of her body surface area, including third-degree burns on her face and her upper limbs.

She was warded for nine days at Singapore General Hospital and treated at the Plastics, Reconstructive and Aesthetics Surgery department.

Recalling the first time she looked into the mirror before surgery, she said: “I couldn’t even recognise myself. The skin on my face was all black.”

She said her mother was speechless when she saw her lying in the hospital bed wrapped in bandages.

Her son, who was 15 at the time, was shocked and asked his grandmother: “Why does mummy look like that?”

As a result of the accident, Ms Er had to give up her stable job at the bar, which would have paid her $2,000 a month.

“My mum, a coffee shop assistant, helped to support me during this period. She cooked for me and bought me bird’s nest. She insisted on it despite me telling her it was too expensive,” Ms Er added.

She needed several months of follow-up treatment and had to stay out of the sun to prevent skin damage.

After juggling a few part-time jobs, she got a full-time job as a travel agent in May 2017.

“But I had to quit in December because the office faces the main road and its door was always left open. I was constantly exposed to sunlight streaming in .”

Ms Er, who lives with her mother, 68, in a flat in Serangoon, now works as a freelance travel agent but finds it tough to make ends meet amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Her 21-year-old son, who is serving national service, has lived with her ex-husband since they separated in 2009.

“When I had the accident, my son was very loving and understanding. He has always been a good boy. He also made me want to be strong and recover quickly,” said Ms Er.

LIABLE FOR NEGLIGENCE

In May last year, a State Court found Chong Qing liable for negligence and ordered its insurer to foot the compensation bill.

The court noted that the switch in the stove is a safety lever that activates upon pressure build-up in the gas canister and ejects the canister and shuts off the gas supply.

Inserting paper into the switch would have prevented this safety mechanism from working, the court added.

A settlement was reached last month, with Ms Er getting $100,000 from the restaurant and its insurer, Liberty Insurance, The Straits Times reported last week.

The damages cover her hospital bills, pain and suffering, and income loss.

Ms Er, who was represented by Hoh Law Corporation lawyer Jogesh Doshi, said she accepted the settlement as she wanted to move on “after six long years dealing with this ordeal”.

She told TNP: “It may not be the ideal amount, but I am just relieved I can put this behind me. When I walked out of court that day, I just (felt) so relaxed for the first time.”

Ms Er said that while she has mostly recovered from her injuries, the accident has left an indelible scar on her.

“I have a phobia of hotpot restaurants and I don’t think I’ll be eating (food cooked from a) steamboat again.”

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