Estate of woman who won suit against Changi General Hospital over late diagnosis awarded more damages

Justice Andrew Phang awarded $6,000 in damages for loss of marriage prospects to the estate of Ms Noor Azlin Abdul Rahman. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The High Court was wrong in not awarding damages for loss of marriage prospects to the estate of a woman who died of lung cancer following a delay in her diagnosis.

In making this ruling, the Court of Appeal said on Monday (Nov 29): "A person could lose his or her marriage prospects even if no marriage was planned, and correspondingly should be compensated for the loss."

Justice Andrew Phang awarded $6,000 in damages for loss of marriage prospects to the estate of Ms Noor Azlin Abdul Rahman, who died in April 2019 at the age of 39 - five weeks after the Court of Appeal ruled in her favour against Changi General Hospital (CGH).

Ms Noor Azlin had sought treatment at CGH, where X-rays of her lungs were taken in 2010 and 2011. Both times, the radiologist recommended follow-up consultation. But this did not happen.

She later sued the hospital, but the case was dismissed by the High Court. Unhappy with the verdict, she appealed and won her case.

The Court of Appeal found "serious inadequacies" in the hospital's follow-up procedures, which caused a delay in the diagnosis of Ms Noor Azlin's lung cancer.

Her cancer was later diagnosed by a doctor at Raffles Medical Clinic who referred her to the hospital for treatment.

The court said: "But for CGH's failure to diagnose her in July 2011... we find it unlikely that the lung cancer would have progressed to Stage IIA before resection. It was more likely than not that she would not have suffered from nodal metastasis and any consequences that may follow."

By the time her appeal was heard, the cancer had already spread to her brain. The Court of Appeal passed the case back to the High Count to decide on the amount to be awarded, but Ms Noor Azlin died of fourth-stage lung cancer before this happened.

In deciding not to compensate the estate for her loss of marriage prospects, High Court Judge Belinda Ang had said: "It was not unheard of for couples to tie the knot before one partner dies from a serious illness like cancer."

But the Court of Appeal said: "While it was not unheard of for people to marry just before a partner dies of a serious medical illness, such cases were exceptional and rare."

It said this argument by Justice Ang, if taken to its logical conclusion, "would mean that so long as there were some cases in which individuals wished to tie the knot with their partners who suffer from serious and debilitating disabilities, injured claimants would not be entitled to damages for loss of marriage prospects".

Mr Vijay Kumar Rai, representing the estate, had appealed for higher compensation, arguing that the $326,620 in damages and $105,000 in costs awarded by the High Court was "manifestly inadequate" and that the judge had erred on six points.

Aside from compensation for loss of marriage prospects, he also obtained $10,400 for Ms Noor Azlin's transport expenses.

The High Court had earlier disallowed the claim for transport expenses of $37,500 because there was no evidence to show that the amount had been incurred.

This was overruled by the Court of Appeal, which said "logic and common sense would suggest that some transport expenses must have been incurred".

But it upheld the High Court ruling on the other four points raised by Mr Rai . These were with regards to her life expectancy, loss of CPF earnings, punitive damages and amount awarded in costs.

The hospital's legal counsel had suggested the amounts awarded by the High Court ought to be reduced. But the hospital did not file any cross appeal.

The final amounts awarded are $343,020 in damages and $105,000 in costs.

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