High Court strikes out lawsuit against SAF, 2 officers over NSF who died during smoke grenade exercise

Private Dominique Sarron Lee experienced breathing difficulties during a training exercise on April 17, 2012, and died one-and-a-half hours later.
Private Dominique Sarron Lee experienced breathing difficulties during a training exercise on April 17, 2012, and died one-and-a-half hours later.PHOTO: MINDEF

SINGAPORE - The High Court on Thursday (March 3) struck out a lawsuit brought against the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) by the family of a full-time national serviceman who died in 2012 after an allergic reaction to smoke grenades during a military exercise.

The family of Private Dominique Sarron Lee had also sued his platoon commander as well as the chief safety officer of the exercise, alleging negligence on their part.

However, all three defendants applied to strike out the claim on the grounds that there is no reasonable cause of action and that the suit is frivolous, vexatious and an abuse of the court process.

 

The defendants relied on a provision in the Government Proceedings Act, arguing that they are indemnified from being sued for negligence for deaths and injuries if the acts are certified to be attributable to service.

In a chambers hearing on Thursday, Judicial Commissioner Kannan Ramesh accepted the arguments and ruled that the provision applied to Pte Lee's case.

He also dismissed the arguments of Mr Irving Choh, who acted for the family, that there was a contract between SAF and Pte Lee and so, his family was entitled to claim damages from SAF for breaching its contractual duty to ensure the highest standards of training safety.

On April 17, 2012, Pte Lee suffered breathing difficulties and passed out during an exercise in Lim Chu Kang, which involved the use of six smoke grenades.

The 21-year-old former track athlete from the Singapore Sports School, who was asthmatic, was evacuated to Sungei Gedong Medical Centre before being warded at National University Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at about 2pm the same day.

A coroner's inquiry in August 2013 found that he had died from an acute allergic reaction to zinc chloride, a key compound used in smoke grenades.

An independent Committee of Inquiry in 2012 said that the number of smoke grenades used in the exercise exceeded the limit of two specified in safety regulations.

Pte Lee's family filed the civil suit last year. Platoon commander Captain Najib Hanuk Muhamad Jalal was defended by Mr R.S. Bajwa while safety officer Captain Chia Thye Siong was defended by Mr Laurence Goh.

Mr Goh told The Straits Times on Thursday that his client is also saddened and affected by the incident. "My client sincerely hopes that the family of the late Dominique will finally have closure over the matter and move on with their lives."

selinal@sph.com.sg