Liposuction death: Property boss Franklin Heng's family awarded $5.3m

Mr Franklin Heng died after a botched liposuction in 2009. The sum awarded included $3.88 million for the loss of inheritance his dependants suffered.
Mr Franklin Heng died after a botched liposuction in 2009. The sum awarded included $3.88 million for the loss of inheritance his dependants suffered.

THE family of real estate firm boss Franklin Heng, who died after being given too much anaesthesia during a botched liposuction, has been awarded $5.323 million.

It is believed to be the biggest payout to an estate arising from death by negligence.

The sum also included $3.88 million to make up for the loss of inheritance the dependants suffered. The amount was derived based on the wealth Mr Heng would have accumulated and left them had he lived. This is believed to be the first time the courts here have awarded damages for such loss of inheritance after the laws were changed in March 2009 to allow it.

Mr Heng, the chief executive of YTL Starhill Global Reit Management, was 44 when he died after the procedure at Reves Clinic on Dec 30, 2009, leaving behind assets that were valued at just below $7.7 million. A coroner's inquiry found that he suffocated when his airway collapsed because of the heavy sedation.

Mr Heng's 18-year-old daughter, 16-year-old son, former wife Peggy Quek, 45, and his 94-year- old mother, Madam Tan Siak Cheng, through the estate trustees, sued two doctors and the clinic.

In 2012, Dr Jim Wong Meng Hang, 38, and Dr Zhu Xiu Chun, 51, admitted liability.

An 11-day hearing spread over several months was conducted in the High Court to assess how much the doctors should pay.

The court awarded $1.179 million for the dependency claims of Ms Quek and their two children, while $20,000 went to Mr Heng's mother. Another $190,000 was given for coroner's inquiry fees.

But the largest award was for the loss of inheritance.

The parties, stressing that this was the first case in which such a claim was being made, used different ways to calculate how much should be paid.

Justice Choo Han Teck labelled the plaintiffs' amount "high" and the defence's method of calculation "overly narrow". He made clear that there was "no reason to create a wholly new method of calculations".

Instead, he was "of the opinion that a balanced approach is to calculate the amount of wealth the deceased would have accumulated, but for his death".

The judge, after considering the views of experts from both parties as well as those of court- appointed assessor Harsha Basnayake, a senior specialist at Ernst & Young and pioneer in business valuation practice, projected that Mr Heng would have accumulated some $7.39 million had he lived. Given that he willed that his children get 52.5 per cent of his estate, "this will result in a sum of $3,883,005 for the loss of inheritance of the dependants", said Justice Choo.

Rockwills Trustee, appointed in lieu of two will executors who backed out, hired lawyers Kuah Boon Theng and Alicia Zhuang to pursue the court suit.

Mr Heng had actually appointed his girlfriend, Ms Mabel Leong, and friend, Mr Ng Yong Hwee, to be joint executors and trustees of his will, but they renounced their rights - she being in a state of grief, and he being a busy chief executive. It is understood that Mr Heng provided for Ms Leong in the will as well.

It is understood that lawyers for the plaintiffs and Dr Wong are studying the judgment, while lawyers for Dr Zhu will be appealing the case.

vijayan@sph.com.sg