Chef's taste buds affected by wisdom tooth extraction; gets $105,000 for job loss, pain after suing dentist

SINGAPORE - A promising head chef whose taste buds were compromised following a botched wisdom tooth extraction was awarded some $105,000 for job loss, pain and suffering.

Australian Pawel Gajewski, 32, who was working at Tippling Club, a fine dining restaurant here, had sued dentist Lee Tong Lynn, who did not contest liability but disputed the amount payable.

"What ought to have been a relatively uncomplicated procedure unfolded into a series of unfortunate events that upended the chef's career as he knew it," said Deputy Registrar Hairul Hakkim in decision grounds released on Tuesday (Sept 3).

The court case is the first reported where damages for pain and suffering from injury relating to a botched wisdom tooth extraction was assessed. This was placed at $30,000.

Mr Gajewski went to Dr Lee to have his wisdom tooth surgically extracted on April 23, 2013, but complications arose during the procedure as his tooth could not be extracted.

He was later found to have sustained in the course of the procedure a serious injury to the right lingual nerve, which led to him being unable to taste or discern texture or temperature in the right side of his tongue.

Mr Hakkim noted the chances of recovery as being "either non-existent or at best poor".

Mr Gajewski had worked as a professional chef since he was 19 in various Michelin-starred restaurants around the world such as Noma in Copenhagen, Guy Savoy in Paris and Le Atelier in Paris.

He resigned from Tippling Club in December 2015, returned to Melbourne and worked there for two companies before opening a business in February last year, providing consultancy services to clients intending to open restaurants.

The court was told earlier this year that Mr Gajewski's colleagues had described him as a talented and accomplished chef who, after the injury, could not work as well as he used to.

Mr Glen Tay, who was sous-chef to Mr Gajewski, recounted an occasion after the injury where Mr Gajewski approved a dish to be served although it was "way too salty".

He added that Mr Gajewski's performance "continued to go through the ground. I had to taste everything for him every day and he could only watch if the cooks were doing something wrong. He had lost his ability to function effectively as a chef and with that, his self-confidence took a beating".

He said he could tell that Mr Gajewski, as a head chef used to "having the final say and who wanted nothing more than to lead the team, was struggling and getting increasingly disheartened".

Deputy Registrar Hakkim found Mr Gajewski's career trajectory in the traditional chef's role had "effectively been pulled under his feet".

 
 

He awarded the $75,000 sought for loss of earning capacity as argued for by his lawyers, Senior Counsel Kuah Boon Theng and lawyer Samantha Oei.

Mr Hakkim made clear that loss of earning capacity was meant to compensate Mr Gajewski for the "debilitated ability" to compete in the market for his pre-accident job.

But he declined to make any award for loss of future earnings for Mr Gajewski, given the "absence of concrete and objective evidence showing his post-accident income".

By mutual consent between his lawyers and Dr Lee's lawyers S. Selvaraj and Leong Hoy Kok, the court awarded Mr Gajewski $30,000 in damages for pain and suffering, and $2,066 for medical and transport expenses.