The High Court has awarded $4.026 million to a former insurance agent after a scathing letter of reference from a previous employer cost him the chance to join the insurer Prudential.
The award was for loss of earnings from the negligence on the part of AXA Life Insurance Singapore for whom the agent, Mr Ramesh Krishnan, had previously worked.
Justice George Wei noted yesterday that the stands of both parties had been "polar opposites" when it came to damages. Mr Ramesh had sought $63 million, while AXA urged he should be awarded only a nominal sum of $1.
The Court of Appeal had asked the High Court to determine the damages after ruling last year that AXA had breached its duty of care to Mr Ramesh.
The 47-year-old, described as "one of AXA's best-compensated advisers", had accused AXA of defaming him in 2012 when providing references on his work performance.
He lost the defamation suit in the High Court in 2015, but the Court of Appeal later ruled that AXA had breached its duty of care to him.
Industry sources had then said the apex court ruling was significant in making clear the standard of care an employer was required to observe while preparing a reference. Reasonable care had to be taken to ensure that the requirements of truth, accuracy and fairness were met.
The Court of Appeal had also noted AXA's breach of duty led Prudential Assurance Company Singapore not to hire Mr Ramesh.
When Prudential asked AXA for the reference, it wrote back to say that his outfit "showed a very poor 13th month persistency rate" - meaning that many of his clients did not stick with their policies - and "we are very concerned as to whether the clients have been provided with proper advice".
The Court of Appeal said this would have given the mistaken impression that Mr Ramesh was not competent, and did not square with the evidence that he was one of AXA's best financial services directors and it had earlier persuaded him not to resign.
Mr Ramesh's lawyer Eugene Thuraisingam argued that Prudential would have hired him but for AXA's negligence. However, AXA's counsel Pillai Muralidharan countered that he would merely have stood a chance of being hired.
Justice Wei decided to use the package conditionally offered by Prudential as a conservative guide.
Starting from April 2011, this included a commencement allowance of $675,000, and an initial monthly salary of $65,625 for the first 12 months and $43,750 for the following months till July last year. He also looked at loss of future earnings between August last year and July next year at a discounted rate.
From this, the judge deducted the salary Mr Ramesh earned from working, in the meantime, at a vegetarian cafe.
An AXA Singapore spokesman said yesterday it is seeking legal advice on the judgment.
"Providing for and protecting our policyholders is our top priority and we remain committed to ensuring that our appointed representatives are fit and proper and meet the competency, financial soundness and integrity standards required by us and the MAS (Monetary Authority of Singapore)."
Mr Ramesh said: "People must know that justice is served. Somebody must go out there and make a point."
He hopes to kick-start his 15-year-long insurance career again.