Court of Appeal to decide damages for woman who received late cancer diagnosis from CGH

Ms Noor Azlin Abdul Rahman was diagnosed with lung cancer only in February 2012.
Ms Noor Azlin Abdul Rahman was diagnosed with lung cancer only in February 2012.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The Court of Appeal will decide damages in a lawsuit brought against Changi General Hospital (CGH) by Ms Noor Azlin Abdul Rahman, who died in 2019 of lung cancer which the hospital was late in diagnosing.

It comes after her estate and her brother, executor of the estate, filed an appeal against the High Court's decision on the damages.

In a judgment on Jan 19 this year, the High Court directed the hospital to pay Ms Noor Azlin's estate $326,620 for her pain and suffering, medical expenses and other damages. Her estate and brother had sought $13.46 million.

The appeal was originally set to be heard by the Appellate Division of the High Court.

But Judge of Appeal Andrew Phang allowed the appellants' application to transfer the case to the Court of Appeal, saying in his judgment released on Wednesday (June 9) that it was more appropriate for the apex court to hear the case.

The Appellate Division came into operation on Jan 2, following a restructuring aimed at improving the efficiency of the courts.

It hears most of the appeals of civil cases decided by the General Division of the High Court, which performs the former High Court's earlier functions.

In his grounds of decision, Justice Phang rejected most of the submissions made by the appellants in their application to transfer the case to the Court of Appeal.

These included arguments that the appeal relates to a matter of national or public importance.

But he agreed with the appellants that the apex court is already familiar with the circumstances and background of the appeal.

He also highlighted the presence of related court proceedings which are pending before the Court of Appeal and the interests of ensuring "a speedy end to long-running and acrimonious proceedings".

Among other things, the judge emphasised that the Appellate Division will be the final appellate court for a vast majority of cases, with a further appeal to the apex court available only in "rare and exceptional instances".

Ms Noor Azlin visited CGH in 2007, 2010 and 2011 for various medical conditions, including lower chest pain. But it was only in February 2012 that she was diagnosed with lung cancer.

She sued the hospital and three doctors for medical negligence in 2015, claiming that her medical outcome would have been different if the cancer had been diagnosed earlier.

The High Court dismissed her lawsuit in 2018 and she appealed against the decision.

In 2019, the apex court dismissed her claims against the doctors but held that CGH had been negligent by failing to have in place a system that allows for the proper management of patients, including the proper follow-up of radiological results.

This caused a delay in the diagnosis of her lung cancer, the court ruled.

The case went back to the High Court to determine the amount CGH had to pay Ms Noor Azlin in damages. But she died at 39 before the issue was decided.

Following the court's judgment in January this year, her estate and brother filed an appeal against the decision.

In his decision, Justice Phang reserved harsh words for the appellants' lawyer - Mr Vijay Kumar Rai of Arbiters Inc Law Corporation.

He noted that the lawyer had alleged that judges in the Appellate Division might be biased against his clients as the division's president was the trial judge presiding over the case when it was heard in the High Court.

"It is deeply troubling that such allegations are being levelled against the (trial judge) and the other members of the (Appellate Division), especially when no basis - whether reasoned or otherwise - has been provided for them," said Justice Phang.

He added that allegations of bias against judges in Singapore have the potential to undermine public confidence in the administration of justice and are never to be taken lightly.

"The irresponsible as well as intemperate manner in which Mr Rai has made these baseless allegations is entirely at odds with his duty as an advocate and solicitor of the Supreme Court of Singapore," said Justice Phang.