Patient wins $250,000 in damages over botched operation

Mr Li Siu Lun had the nerves in his right hand severed and reattached without his consent during an operation to separate fused tendons.
Mr Li Siu Lun had the nerves in his right hand severed and reattached without his consent during an operation to separate fused tendons.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

But court turns down his request for a further $500k in punitive damages

A patient who successfully sued Gleneagles Hospital after its nurse helped a doctor cover up additional surgery he performed to cover up a botched hand operation, was on Thursday awarded $250,000 in damages.

But the court turned down Mr Li Siu Lun's request for a further $500,000 in punitive damages.

It is understood that while such a claim, meant to punish the defendant and prevent a repeat case, may be recognised in some countries, there have been no local precedents here.

Mr Li, a 56-year-old Hong Kong resident with a British passport, had gone to see hand surgeon Looi Kok Poh because of the tightness he felt when moving the fingers on his right hand.

But during the 2006 operation to separate fused tendons, Dr Looi severed the nerves in his patient's right hand, then reattached them without his consent.

A Gleneagles Hospital nurse altered the consent form post-surgery, adding words before giving a copy of the form to Mr Li without telling him about the changes.

The surgeon, whose private practice Hand Wrist and Microsurgical Centre is located at Gleneagles Medical Centre, admitted liability in 2010.

The issue of damages in his case had been settled separately.

It was in 2011 that the hospital admitted its own liability.

The matter of damages came before High Court Assistant Registrar Jordan Tan this week.

Represented by Senior Counsel Roderick Martin and lawyer Alice Tan, Mr Li was awarded $240,000 for aggravated damages, reflecting the harm done to him. This was more than the $200,000 he sought.

Another $10,000 was awarded for general damages.

Mr Li, who travels most of the time as he has investments in many countries, had previously said: "I hope this is the first and last time that such an unfortunate thing would happen to anyone."

His lawyer, Mrs Tan, added: "My client would have donated the money to charity had the legal costs not exceeded the award sum."

It is understood the four-year battle has cost Mr Li over $800,000, part of which went to hiring medical experts from abroad. Legal costs will be assessed in due course.

vijayan@sph.com.sg