Liposuction death: Apex court cuts total sum awarded to family of Franklin Heng

Family of late businessman to receive $3.26m instead of $5.27m awarded in the High Court

Mr Franklin Heng died after a botched liposuction in 2009.
Mr Franklin Heng died after a botched liposuction in 2009. PHOTO: MACQUARIE PACIFIC STAR PRIME REI

Singapore's highest court has reduced the amount of money awarded to the family of a real estate businessman who sued his doctors after he died on the operating table, especially with regard to how much his children stood to lose in their inheritance with his death.

The family of the late Franklin Heng will receive $3.26 million instead of the $5.27 million awarded in the High Court. This excludes the sum awarded for the coroner's fees.

It was the first time that the Court of Appeal has had to consider a claim for loss of inheritance under the relevant section of the Civil Law Act. Comprising Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, Judges of Appeal Chao Hick Tin and Andrew Phang, it used the case to indicate the method for computing a loss-of-inheritance claim under the Act.

But while the court cut the inheritance claims for the children, it increased their dependency claims in judgment grounds issued on Thursday. Mr Heng, then 44, died during a botched liposuction operation at Reves Clinic on Dec 30, 2009.

He left behind assets worth just below $7.7 million. He was survived by his daughter, now 20 years old, and his son, 17. The administrator of his estate, Rockwills Trustee, sued two doctors and the clinic on behalf of the estate and Mr Heng's dependants.

Dr Jim Wong, 39, and Dr Zhu Xiu Chun, 52, admitted liability and last year the High Court awarded some $1.179 million for the dependency claims of his former wife, Ms Peggy Quek, and their two children, while $20,000 went to Mr Heng's mother. Another $190,000 was given for the coroner's inquiry fees.

Both sides appealed.

Rockwills, through Legal Clinic LLC lawyers Kuah Boon Theng and Felicia Chain, sought increases for the dependency and loss-of-inheritance claims of the two children.

Dr Wong, defended by lawyers Christopher Chong and Melvin See of Dentons Rodyk & Davidson, urged the opposite.

Dr Zhu, represented by lawyers Myint Soe and Srinivasan Selvaraj of MyintSoe & Selvaraj, wanted similar reductions and also argued to cut the coroner's inquiry fees.

The court, which heard the parties in March, kept the dependency claim for Ms Quek at $302,400 as awarded in the High Court, but increased the dependency sum for both children from $814,500 to a total of $995,750.

For the claim for loss of inheritance of the children, the appeal court reduced the sum from $3.883 million to $1.942 million.

The amount was derived from the wealth Mr Heng would have accumulated had he lived.

The court obtained the lower inheritance figure by factoring in a 70 per cent discount on the total projected sum Mr Heng would have accumulated in savings had he lived to 80. A discount has to be applied to the projected sum "to account for the vicissitudes of life and that his notional wealth would likely, to an extent, be diminished by his post-retirement expenses", said the court. The discounted sum amounted to $3.698 million and the apex court awarded 52.5 per cent of the sum to his children.

"It is our hope that in future cases, parties would heed the call for better evidence and place the same before the court to enable it to arrive at a more objective and reasoned determination of the discount that should be adopted," wrote Justice Chao. Separately, the court ordered that the coroner's fees payable to Rockwills be taxed.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 03, 2016, with the headline 'Apex court cuts total sum awarded to family'. Print Edition | Subscribe