NATIONAL SERVICEMAN'S DEATH

Dead soldier's family sues Singapore Armed Forces, two officers

Suit accuses SAF of failing to provide safe and conducive training environment

The family of a national serviceman who died in 2012 after an allergic reaction to smoke grenades is suing the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) for allegedly failing to provide a safe training environment.

Private Dominique Sarron Lee's platoon commander and the exercise's chief safety officer are also being sued for negligence.

The suit has been filed in the High Court, where claims exceed $250,000. The damages being sought include $34,300 for Pte Lee's tombstone.

The 21-year-old suffered breathing difficulties and passed out during the exercise in Lim Chu Kang in April 2012, which involved the use of six smoke grenades.

The former track athlete from the Singapore Sports School was evacuated to Sungei Gedong Medical Centre before being warded at National University Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at about 2pm the same day.

A coroner's inquiry in August 2013 found that he had died from an acute allergic reaction to zinc chloride, a key compound used in smoke grenades.

The coroner also agreed with the findings of an independent Committee of Inquiry in 2012 which said that the number of smoke grenades used in the exercise exceeded the limit of two specified in safety regulations.

State Coroner Imran Abdul Hamid also pointed out that Pte Lee had "underplayed and underdeclared" his asthma history during a pre-enlistment medical check-up, in which he failed to mention his latest attack.

The plaintiff in the suit, filed by lawyer Irving Choh, has been listed as the estate of Pte Lee.

His parents are divorced.

According to the court papers, Captain Najib Hanuk Muhamad Jalal, then the platoon commander in the 3rd Battalion Singapore Infantry Regiment to which Pte Lee was attached, and chief safety officer Captain Chia Thye Siong allegedly contributed to the death of Pte Lee.

It is claimed that the officers were duty-bound to ensure that only the maximum number of smoke grenades allowed under safety regulations were detonated.

It is also alleged that Capt Najib failed to bear in mind Pte Lee's asthmatic condition, which made him more predisposed to suffering an adverse reaction from the smoke.

Pte Lee, who was diagnosed with asthma prior to enlisting in November 2011, had to wear a blue band around his wrist to indicate his condition.

Capt Najib's lawyer R.S. Bajwa has filed a notice of appearance in court to address the case.

Lawyer Laurence Goh Eng Yau is defending Capt Chia.

The Attorney-General is named as a party in the suit, to defend the SAF.

According to the suit, the SAF had a duty to provide a safe and conducive environment for Pte Lee to train in.

This includes providing adequate protective gear for national servicemen during exercises that involve the detonation of smoke grenades.

Among other things, it is claimed that the SAF failed to provide a sufficient system of checks to ensure compliance with regulations, such as the number of grenades which can be used.

In the wake of the incident, SAF tightened its safety checks, including having more safety officers on the ground, and set up an Army Safety Review Board to examine the army's overall safety structure, processes and culture.

An Attorney-General's Chambers spokesman told The Sunday Times that it has "filed an appearance in the action and is presently assessing the matter". A pre-trial conference is due next month.

vijayan@sph.com.sg