Further hearing on cat's death dispute

Rag doll cats have blue eyes, semi-long hair, and a soft and silky coat.
Rag doll cats have blue eyes, semi-long hair, and a soft and silky coat.PHOTO: ISTOCKPHOTO

S'pore buyer was awarded $10.6k but Aussie panel orders new hearing after seller appeals

A Singapore woman, awarded A$10,000 (S$10,625) when a cat she bought from Australia fell ill and had to be put down, has been told she will have to await a further hearing, after the seller appealed.

Ms Ruth Chai bought a rag doll cat in May 2014 but it fell ill less than a month later and had to be euthanised on Sept 7 that year.

At issue was whether the kitten was ill at the time of purchase, which meant compensation would be payable to the buyer for breach of contract. Ms Chai won A$10,000 for the cost of the kitten, its transportation to Singapore and vet bills during the cat's illness.

However, an appeal panel in New South Wales ruled it was unfair for the tribunal which heard the case in January to have made the award in the absence of the Australian seller, Mrs Fay Waters, from Sydney.

Rag doll cats have blue eyes, semi-long hair, a soft and silky coat and are known for their docile temperament and affectionate nature.

Ms Chai, who has taken part in events run by the Feline Fanciers Society of Singapore, had recorded in a Facebook posting in June 2014 that the cat was getting better after being treated by "one of Singapore's best (if not the best) vets".

She had appeared before the appeal panel by telephone at its hearing on Sept 14 and filed a "voluminous reply" to Mrs Waters' claims.

Mrs Waters had argued the cat was examined three times by three qualified vets before its departure from Australia and was found to be fit, healthy and free from any illness.

She added that even the reports provided by Ms Chai from two doctors in Singapore showed negative returns on the relevant tests, which were done almost eight weeks after the cat left Australia.

As it takes four weeks post-infection for feline infectious peritonitis to be detected, she said, "it is impossible for the cat to have been suffering from the corona virus or FIP (feline infectious peritonitis) prior to leaving Australia". The virus must have been contracted after its arrival and "most significantly well after all of my responsibilities had ceased", Mrs Waters added.

The appeal panel also noted that Mrs Waters had in earlier submissions explained she was in no condition to attend the January hearing because of the major traumatic disorder and personal distress she suffered following her husband's suicide seven months earlier and her son's attempted suicide, for which she received medical care.

The appeal panel held there is a "live issue" between the parties as to whether the cat was infected with the disease at the time it was shipped to Ms Chai and the failure to accord "procedural fairness" to Mrs Waters deprived her of the chance of a possible successful outcome.

The tribunal informed Ms Chai the January hearing was meant to "conciliate between the parties and make procedural directions only".

"It was manifestly unfair for the tribunal to determine the proceedings adversely (for Mrs Waters) in her absence when all she could reasonably have expected would happen at the hearing on Jan 11, 2016 was that procedural directions would be made," the appeal panel said in decision grounds issued earlier this month.

Mrs Waters had been notified of the hearing last December, had sought an adjournment but was refused and told the Jan 11 hearing would proceed as indicated.

The two-member appeal panel of the New South Wales Civil and Administrative Tribunal ordered the case to be remitted to the Consumer and Commercial Division.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 28, 2016, with the headline 'Further hearing on cat's death dispute'. Print Edition | Subscribe