Three high-stakes medical negligence suits to watch

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon speaks at the opening of the Legal Year 2016, at the Supreme Court, on Jan 11, 2016.
Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon speaks at the opening of the Legal Year 2016, at the Supreme Court, on Jan 11, 2016.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

High Court cases to be heard after CJ hints the way such suits are settled could be refined

Three high-stakes medical negligence suits are pending in the High Court, days after the Chief Justice hinted that the way in which such cases are settled could be refined.

In one, a widow is seeking compensation for an allegedly flawed specimen analysis that prevented early detection of the skin cancer that killed her husband. In another case, a lung cancer patient is taking a hospital to court for allegedly failing to act early on a chest X-ray while in the third, a surgeon is being sued for alleged negligence.

Speaking about medical negligence cases at the Opening of the Legal Year 2016 on Monday, CJ Sundaresh Menon said: "The experience in other countries suggests that this is a space we must watch carefully."

In a 10-day civil suit due to start today, widower Koo Quay Keong, 69, alleges that consultant general surgeon London Lucien Ooi had been negligent in his advice, medical treatment and post-operation care of Mr Koo's wife, Madam Lee Lee Chan. The businesswoman died on July 28, 2011, aged 59. She had undergone three operations that month, done by Professor Ooi, in relation to a tumour in her pancreas.

Prof Ooi, defended by Senior Counsel Edwin Tong, denies the allegations, pointing out the complications which arose during surgery could have arisen regardless of the care and skill involved in the procedures. Mr Koo, represented by Senior Counsel Tan Chee Meng, is seeking damages that will be assessed if the claim succeeds.

In the second case, a widow is suing Quest Laboratories and a pathologist for negligence in failing to detect a malignant cancer in the specimen of a skin lesion taken from her husband Peter Traynor in 2009.

The specimen was recalled three years later and another pathologist detected the malignant cancer from the biopsy. Mr Traynor died in December 2013.

Ms Carol Ann Armstrong, in documents filed by lawyer Christopher Goh, alleges that early detection could have addressed the skin cancer in 2009 and prevented its fatal spread.

Quest, in defence documents filed by lawyer Lek Siang Pheng, denies the claims, pointing out it could not be vicariously liable for the actions of a pathologist who was an independent contractor.

Lawyer Kang Yixian, in denying the claims against the pathologist, pointed out the information accompanying the specimen when it was submitted for analysis was limited and the specimen was small.

In the third case, lung cancer patient Noor Azlin Adul Rahman, 36, is seeking damages from Changi General Hospital (CGH), alleging that it failed to follow up with further action on a chest X-ray taken in 2007 which showed a small spot on her lung.

In late 2011 and early 2012, chest x-rays and a biopsy at CGH showed a tumour.

Since last January, she has been receiving experimental treatment that may prolong her life by a decade, according to court documents filed by lawyer V K Rai.

CGH, through lawyer Kuah Boon Theng, disputes the claims, pointing out there was no clinical indication for a report on the findings of the chest X-ray done in 2007, and no lung lesion was found on repeat chest X-rays done a month later.

A CGH spokesman said: "CGH empathises with Ms Noor Azlin Abdul Rahman, and remains open to discussion on how we can support her while she undergoes treatment and recovery. However, we reject the allegations... that the hospital was negligent in her care."

A High Court pre-trial conference was held last week.

Correction note: An earlier version of this report stated that lung cancer patient Noor Azlin Adul Rahman went to a different hospital in late 2011, where chest X-rays and a biopsy showed a tumour. The line should read: "In late 2011 and early 2012, chest x-rays and a biopsy at CGH showed a tumour."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 14, 2016, with the headline 'Three high-stakes medical negligence suits to watch'. Print Edition | Subscribe