Appeal court gives go-ahead for family of woman who died in childbirth to seek claims

Thomson Medical Centre.
Thomson Medical Centre.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The husband and daughter of a teacher who died in 2007 while delivering her son will have their day in court to seek dependency claims from her obstetrician and Thomson Medical, athough their suit was filed past the three-year statutory limitation period.

The Court of Appeal on Wednesday (April 6) ruled that father and daughter should be allowed to pursue their claims, overturning a lower court decision which had struck out their claims on the grounds that they were time-barred from suing.

The court said it seemed that there was an arguable case that the late disclosure of a set of medical reports "might have resulted in the concealment of the cause of action and resulted in the late commencement of the suit".

The trial judge will have to decide if the defendants can rely on the time limitation defence.

The patient and her family cannot be named for legal reasons.

In September 2007, the woman died in childbirth from acute amniotic fluid embolism while delivering her second child. The boy, who suffered brain injuries during delivery, had severe disabilities.

A month after her death, her husband requested a detailed medical report from her doctor, Dr Koh Cheng Huat. Five months later, he asked Thomson Medical for a copy of his wife's medical records.

The man's lawyer, Ms Kuah Boon Theng, argued that he had accepted her cause of death as a obstetric mortality risk and was under the impression that the documents provided were complete and comprehensive.

It was not until years later that the husband realised that the cause of his wife's death could be due to the administration of oxytocin, a medication used to induce labour.

In 2014, the husband and his two children filed a negligence suit for damages, including dependency claims and claims for physical injury to the son.

Dr Koh and Thomson Medical succeeded before an assistant registrar in striking out the dependency claims on the basis that the limitation period prescibed by law barred them from seeking such claims. The family appealed to the High Court and lost.

They then went to the Court of Appeal, arguing that the "unconscionable" conduct of the defendants in concealing the circumstances of the woman's death warranted an intervention by the court.

On Wednesday, the Court of Appeal allowed the husband's and daughter's appeal. However, the son's appeal was struck out as he was not named as a party on the notice of appeal filed by their lawyers. However, the son can still claim for personal injury.