High Court slashes legal costs for billionaire in $1.4m limo suit

Mr Koh Wee Meng, boss of the Fragrance hotel chain, had sued Trans Eurokars over his Rolls-Royce Phantom limousine bought in 2008, complaining it made loud noises. His claims were dismissed in the High Court last May.
Mr Koh Wee Meng, boss of the Fragrance hotel chain, had sued Trans Eurokars over his Rolls-Royce Phantom limousine bought in 2008, complaining it made loud noises. His claims were dismissed in the High Court last May.ST FILE PHOTO

Billionaire Koh Wee Meng, who lost a lawsuit last year over his allegedly noisy $1.4 million Rolls-Royce Phantom, has scored a minor legal victory.

The High Court has slashed the legal costs that he must pay Trans Eurokars, the Rolls-Royce agent here, to about $545,000 from $892,000 before goods and services tax (GST), rejecting some of its claims for travel and expenses.

Mr Koh, boss of the Fragrance budget hotel chain, sued Trans Eurokars over the Rolls-Royce Phantom limousine he bought in 2008. He complained that it made loud noises and vibrated when making three-point turns.

Last May, High Court Justice Judith Prakash dismissed his claims with costs - meaning he had to pay the legal fees of the party he sued.

Justice Prakash said at the time that Mr Koh "cannot really expect the experience of driving in the Rolls to be the same as flying on a cloud, which is the impression some may get from the term 'waftability' made up many years ago to describe the experience of travelling in a Rolls-Royce".

Trans Eurokars filed claims of over $892,000 in legal costs on Dec 3 last year, which Mr Koh disputed two weeks later. The case was heard on Jan 17, and High Court Assistant Registrar Justin Yeo issued his decision last week.

He slashed Trans Eurokars' claim for $608,807, before GST, in legal costs to $320,000 as it was "disproportionate to the case and also excessive" when assessed against costs in other cases.

Mr Yeo also reduced the claim for out-of-pocket costs incurred. For example, he did not grant $12,921 that was claimed for accommodation and airfare of Trans Eurokars witnesses Phillip Marshall and Alexander Uphoff, for an inspection in February 2012, as it "did not appear to be necessary".

Mr Yeo also did not grant $5,000 in travelling expenses incurred by an expert, Mr Robert Matawa, who came to Singapore four days before the first part of the trial. Mr Matawa stayed until the conclusion of the first part, even though he was scheduled to give evidence only during the second part of the trial.

He also did not grant $8,727 in travelling expenses incurred when two senior solicitors were flown to Germany for a meeting with Mr Matawa.

"No good reasons were given as to why it would not have been sufficient to fly only one of the two solicitors, or for the meeting to take place via video or teleconference," Mr Yeo noted.

In his judgment, he said the process of determining legal costs payable is becoming "a source of satellite litigation between the parties, with opposing sides inclined to either inflate or deflate the amount of costs they claim would be proportionate and reasonable".

To that end, the costs budgeting scheme, now in its pilot phase, is aimed at reducing the amount of time and effort spent in such disputes, he said.

gleong@sph.com.sg