Widower sues doctor, clinic over wife's death

44-year-old died in hospital following complications from liposuction procedures at clinic

A widower whose wife died following complications from liposuction procedures to smooth "dents" in her thighs is suing both doctor and clinic for alleged negligence.

Madam Yeong Soek Mun, 44, who was the regional marketing development head of major pharmaceutical company Roche Diagnostics Asia Pacific, collapsed half an hour after a two-hour operation at TCS @ Central Clinic in June 2013. She was taken by ambulance to Singapore General Hospital but died about 21/2 hours later.

Mr Seto Wei Meng, 51, as co-administrator of her estate, is seeking damages, claiming her death was caused by, or was partly due to, the lack of the duty of care by three parties.

The three defendants - the surgeon who performed the operation, the medical holding company that acted as collection agent and the company that owned the clinic - deny the claims in a High Court civil suit that follows a coroner's probe into the death.

The coroner's inquiry in April 2014 certified the cause of death as "pulmonary fat embolism" - a rare complication from liposuction and fat transfer procedures. It involves the entry of a significant amount of fat particles into the vascular system which can travel and block blood vessels.

Associate Professor Gilbert Lau, a senior consultant forensic pathologist, clarified at the time that liposuction, when performed with or without fat transfer, is known to carry the risk of fat embolism.

He added that the fat transfer procedure might also be sufficiently traumatic to disrupt the blood vessels and result in fat embolism.

State Coroner Imran Hamid recorded a "misadventure" verdict on her death, making clear that she did not die from foul play. But he had harsh words about part of the record-keeping involved, pointing out that "adverse patient outcomes may result in poor record-keeping, especially if one attempts to obviate the adverse medico-legal repercussions flowing from it".

"I would like to reiterate that the sooner the importance of maintaining contemporaneous, accurate and detailed clinical records is realised, the better for all concerned. I would leave it to the family and the State to decide on whatever steps they deem appropriate to take."

Mr Seto, in court documents filed, claimed his wife had not been properly advised about the risks involved in liposuction procedures.

Represented by lawyers Kuah Boon Theng and Felicia Chain, he added that the operation was performed in such a manner as to introduce a high volume of fat into her circulation that led to pulmonary fat embolism, among other things.

The doctor, defended by lawyer Charles Lin, said Madam Yeong had been advised about the procedures' risks and alternatives to them a month before the operation. She had also been assessed as fit to undergo the operation.

The second and third defendants, represented by lawyers Lek Siang Pheng and Lu Xi Min, disclaimed any liability, pointing out that the doctor was a visiting consultant and not an employee of the holding company or the clinic.

He operated as an "independent contractor" and was accredited to perform certain operations, using the clinic's facilities. They added that at the time, TCS was managed by the third defendant.

They argued that Madam Yeong suffered from a known risk of the procedure which can result in internal failures and lead to death within a few hours, among other things.

A High Court pre-trial conference is due later this month.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 15, 2016, with the headline 'Widower sues doctor, clinic over wife's death'. Subscribe