Thai woman scarred by Bugis hotpot explosion sues restaurant for S$96,000, gets S$110,000

She had to give up her career in the entertainment industry due to her scars.

Khine Zin Htet | December 15, 2023, 09:00 PM



A Thai woman who was working in Singapore as a performance artist was left with lifelong scars on her body after a gas cartridge from a nearby hotpot exploded in a Bugis hotpot restaurant on Apr. 4, 2015.

The explosion was described as a "horrific incident" which saw a "torrent of hot soup and ingredients" launched towards the woman, scorching her bare skin and resulting in first and second-degree burns on her face, arms, chest and thigh.

Najai Benchawan, then 29, had to settle for a job as a tour guide in Thailand because of the permanent scars.

She initially sued the restaurant and the gas cartridge supplier for about S$96,000 compensation, but a deputy registrar who felt she had "undervalued" her claim awarded her S$110,489.38 instead by the end of a trial.

Hotpot explosion

A judgment made publicly available on Dec. 12, 2023, revealed that Benchawan met her friend for supper at the hotpot restaurant at around 4am on the fateful day.

The restaurant, Chong Qing (Origin) Steamboat, specialised in serving hotpots over portable cooker stoves on customers' tables.

Nearing the end of her meal, Benchawan was going to wash her hands inside the restaurant, but her friend told her to finish a bit more food so they could leave together, and she agreed.

A few minutes later, the gas cartridge of the stove on the table next to theirs exploded.

Benchawan instinctively raised her hands to shield her face and turned away from the blast, but to no avail.

Hot soup and debris landed on her face, hands and back, putting her through searing pain.

She then ran to the toilet to douse herself with cold water.

She was later conveyed to the Singapore General Hospital (SGH).

Injuries and scars

Benchawan underwent surgery for her open wounds and later underwent regular physiotherapy and occupational therapy.

Around 10 days after the incident, she was discharged from SGH but had to go back for treatments over the next six months.

Permanent keloids developed over her right shoulder and left wrist, which caused her pain.

She also suffered injuries to her eyes, which only completely healed in June 2015.

Benchawan was given two months of medical leave and returned to Thailand shortly afterwards.

Pain and suffering over the years

Benchawan said that the injuries put her through "significant pain and suffering throughout the years".

Current photos of her scars showed prominent scars covering significant segments of her left arm.

There were also some less obvious scars on her face, chest, back, right hand and thigh.

A medical expert from SGH testified that her scars would be permanent, with laser treatment unlikely to yield positive results.

The "unsightly scars" on her face and body prevented her from continuing to work in the entertainment industry, which places significant importance on beauty and image.

She left Singapore and returned to Thailand. She gave up her entertainment career and became a tour guide for Japanese tourists as she spoke Japanese.

Benchawan moved to Japan after marrying a Japanese man about three years ago and worked as a clothing store sales assistant before giving birth.

Undervalued her claim: deputy registrar

Benchawan filed the suit in 2018.

On Jun. 16, 2022, it was agreed that the restaurant would bear the full compensation sum while its insurer indemnified it.

Regarding compensation, Benchawan originally claimed S$55,000 in general damages for pain and suffering.

However, the deputy registrar felt she "had undervalued her claim".

Benchawan subsequently revised her claim to $70,000 after reviewing relevant previous cases.

On the other hand, the insurer, who took over the defence from the restaurant, believed she should only get $13,000 in general damages for pain and suffering.

This includes S$10,000 for her burn injuries, which the deputy registrar described as "outrageously low".

S$70,000 awarded for pain and suffering

He awarded S$30,000 for her facial injuries, stating that some discolouration over her cheeks could still be seen by the time of the hearing.

"The injuries were also located at possibly the most conspicuous and prominent area of her body that is difficult to be covered up by clothing," he said, adding that it would have likely continued to be a source of psychological discomfort.

He then awarded S$12,000 for the scars on her chest and S$57,000 for the scars on her shoulders, arms, hands and left thigh, which he believed would not only "significantly inconvenience" her but also "affect her confidence and comfort in her choice of clothing".

Additionally, he awarded S$8,500 for her eye injury. While she had recovered fully, he considered that "the pain inflicted by the boiling fluids must have been excruciating".

While it all added to over S$100,000, the deputy registrar brought the final amount to S$70,000 after considering "overlapping injuries".

S$20,000 for loss of earning capacity

The insurer also disputed Benchawan's claim of S$20,000 for loss of earning capacity.

Benchawan didn't have much evidence of her income but said she earned around S$1,300 monthly before the incident as a performance artist but could only earn around S$985 as a tour guide.

The deputy registrar decided to allow Benchawan's S$20,000 claim as even though there was uncertainty as to how long of a future she had as a performance artist, he believed it "cannot be seriously disputed that the scars would limit the range of jobs" she can work as.

Including medical expenses incurred in Singapore and Thailand, the deputy registrar awarded Benchawan a total sum of $110,489.38.

He will rule on legal fees separately.

Top image via Facebook