Retired top jockey Saimee Jumaat, who was awarded US$620,900 (S$886,000) in a High Court suit last year, saw it evaporate when Singapore's top court reversed the ruling because he had sued too late.
The claim was time-barred by about 12 weeks.
The Court of Appeal said last Wednesday that the six-year time limit to sue started from the day Mr Jumaat suffered actual loss, which was in April 2012 when the first tranche of an investment payout was due to him.
He would have succeeded if he had sued by April 2018. Instead, he had filed the claim in July 2018.
At issue was the start date for a cause of action to accrue when damage occurred.
"This vexed area of law is the subject of many conflicting authorities," said the Court of Appeal, comprising Judge of Appeal Steven Chong and Justices Belinda Ang and Woo Bih Li.
The top court, in arriving at its decision, surveyed multiple legal authorities, from Singapore to the United Kingdom and Australia, to clarify the law on time bar and limitation periods.
Lawyers said the court's decision underscores its importance in pursuing potential claims.
Mr Jumaat had been advised by financial advisers Moi Kok Keong and Alice Quek to place US$620,900 in a foreign exchange trading service run by a company called SMLG.
But the purported returns did not come through and the High Court last year held the duo liable for breaching their duty of care owed to Mr Jumaat by negligently misrepresenting the SMLG investment to him. Also, the court held IPP Financial Advisers, which engaged Mr Moi and Ms Quek as financial advisers, to be vicariously liable for the duo's negligence.
All three defendants appealed and the case turned on whether Mr Jumaat was time-barred in filing the claim.
In judgment grounds, the Court of Appeal pointed to Section 24A(3)(a) of the Limitation Act and held the cause of action accrued when the damage occurred.
Mr Jumaat had made the SMLG investment via three tranches of payment on April 27, 2011; June 17, 2011; and Feb 3, 2012. The dates on which each of the sums became due for repayment were: April 27, 2012; June 17, 2012; and Feb 3, 2013.
Drew & Napier's Senior Counsel Jimmy Yim and lawyer Kevin Lee, in defending IPP Financial Advisers, stressed that the only single negligent act, which is the subject of the action, was by Mr Moi and Ms Quek's negligent misrepresentations. They added that April 27, 2012 was when the negligent misrepresentations first became actionable due to some damage which occurred then.
A team of lawyers, led by Ms Josephine Chong as briefed by Mr Wilson Tan, argued for the advisers, and Mr Uthayasurian Sidambaram, briefed by Mr Vishnu Aditya Naidu, appeared for Mr Jumaat.
The High Court had held last year that Mr Jumaat's action accrued on Sept 21, 2012 - the date when he did not receive any of the sums under settlement agreements.
Only on that date could it be said with certainty that he suffered actual loss as a result of Mr Moi and Ms Quek's negligent misrepresentations, the court had added.
It, therefore, held the latest date he could claim before the six-year time bar kicked in was Sept 21, 2018 and his claims were not time-barred as he had filed his writ on July 21, 2018.
Not so, said the Court of Appeal, which held that the relevant date is linked to the loss caused by Mr Moi and Ms Quek's negligent misrepresentations of the SMLG investment and not under the subsequent settlement agreements.
"He can claim damages in respect of his full claim of US$620,900 as long as he commenced the action against them by April 27, 2018.
"Unfortunately, Saimee failed to do so - the writ of summons was filed too late, on July 21, 2018. His claim is accordingly time-barred," wrote Judge of Appeal Chong.