Negligence suit over girl's death settled out of court

Girl being treated for skin rash was later found to be bleeding in the brain

The parents of a girl who died from alleged negligent treatment have settled their suit against the National Skin Centre, Healthway Medical Corporation and two doctors.

Mr S. Kamalakannan, the girl's father, agreed on settlement terms - which are being kept private and confidential - and a notice to discontinue the suit was filed in the High Court last week.

His 10-year-old daughter Leela Ruba Kamalakannan had sought treatment at a Tampines clinic in March 2011 for what the family thought was a skin rash. It was continued at the National Skin Centre, but the problem did not get better.

About four weeks later, Leela collapsed suddenly at home and was rushed to KK Women's and Children's Hospital where she was found to be bleeding in the brain. She died three days later despite undergoing surgery.

When the family sued the defendants last year alleging negligence, the parties denied the claims, making clear the procedures in dealing with the girl's case were proper and within accepted norms of medical practice.

At issue in the case then was whether a timely blood test would have detected her condition - a fall in blood platelet count - earlier and averted the tragedy.

Healthway, through its lawyer, Mr Charles Lin, declined to comment on the settlement.

The parents' lawyer, Mr Naresh Mahtani, said they "would like closure on this episode and move on with their life".

Lawyers say parties are generally driven to settle civil suits when costs , uncertainty and other issues such as publicity are factored into the equation. " More than seven out of 10 medical negligence suits are settled out of court, " said Khattar Wong lawyer K. Anparasan. "There firstly has to be a reasonable offer on the table for parties to consider settling a case."

He added that insurers behind the defendants in any of the cases also weigh in on factors such as the trade-off between opting to contest a case all the way and the cost-benefits in wanting to sustain or settle a suit.

But it does not follow that insurers are moved to settle all cases instead of fighting the case in court, as this may open the floodgates to medical claims.

For instance, in May, the High Court dismissed a $1 million suit by a 54-year-old patient against Singapore General Hospital and a surgeon. In the suit filed in 2012, Mr Andrew Chua sought damages for negligence after a 2007 operation failed to reverse his paraplegia.

Global Law Alliance senior director Niru Pillai pointed out that a settlement will normally include a "no admission of liability" clause as part of the terms.

" This is because a settlement outcome has nothing to do with the merits of the case as presented by either party," he said.

"Lawyers do well to remember the adage, 'A bad settlement is always better than a good lawsuit', given the vagaries of litigation."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 27, 2015, with the headline 'Negligence suit over girl's death settled out of court'. Print Edition | Subscribe