Estate of Lee Rui Feng Dominique Sarron, deceased v Najib Hanuk bin Muhammad Jalal and others

JurisdictionSingapore
CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
JudgeKannan Ramesh JC
Judgment Date28 June 2016
Neutral Citation[2016] SGHC 119
Citation[2016] SGHC 119
Hearing Date03 March 2016,15 November 2015
Plaintiff CounselIrving Choh Thian Chee and Kor Wan Wen Melissa (Optimus Chambers LLC)
Published date01 July 2016
Defendant CounselGoh Eng Yau Laurence (Laurence Goh Eng Yau & Co),Ragbir Singh s/o Ram Singh Bajwa (Bajwa & Co),Jeyendran s/o Jeyapal and Lam Qian Yi Debra (Attorney-General's Chambers)
Date28 June 2016
Docket NumberSuit No 311 of 2015 (Summons Nos 2424, 2672 and 2820 of 2015)
Kannan Ramesh JC: Introduction

Suit No 311 of 2015 (“Suit 311/2015”) centres on the untimely passing of full-time national serviceman Lee Rui Feng Dominique Lee Sarron (“Mr Lee”) shortly after a military training exercise on 17 April 2012 (“the Exercise”).

The plaintiff is the estate of Mr Lee. On 1 April 2015, the plaintiff commenced an action against Najib Hanuk bin Muhammad Jalal, the first defendant (“D1”), Chia Thye Siong, the second defendant (“D2”), and the Attorney-General, the third defendant (“the AG”). D1 and D2 are full-time Singapore Armed Forces (“SAF”) officers who were involved in the Exercise. The AG was joined as a party to the proceedings by virtue of s 19(3) of the Government Proceedings Act (Cap 121, 1985 Rev Ed) (“the GPA”).

By Summons Nos 2424, 2672 and 2820 of 2015 (collectively, “the Applications”), the defendants applied under O 18 r 19 of the Rules of Court (Cap 322, R 5, 2014 Rev Ed) (“the ROC”) to strike out the statement of claim. The plaintiff was represented by Mr Irving Choh (“Mr Choh”) and Ms Melissa Kor. D1 and D2 were represented by Mr Ragbir Singh s/o Ram Singh Bajwa (“Mr Singh”) and Mr Laurence Goh Eng Yau (“Mr Goh”), respectively. Mr Jeyendran s/o Jeyapal (“Mr Jeyapal”) and Ms Debra Lam represented the AG.

On 3 March 2016, I heard and allowed the Applications, and delivered oral grounds. The plaintiff subsequently appealed, and these are the detailed grounds of my decision.

The facts

Mr Lee enlisted in the SAF on or about 8 November 2011. He was posted to the 3rd battalion of the Singapore Infantry Regiment in or around January 2012. Prior to his enlistment, Mr Lee had been diagnosed with asthma. To indicate his asthmatic condition, Mr Lee had to wear a blue band around his wrist while enlisted in the SAF.

On 17 April 2012, Mr Lee participated in the Exercise. The Exercise simulated an attack on four buildings in a residential area. At the material time, D1 was the Platoon Commander of the platoon which Mr Lee was attached to for the Exercise, and D2 was the Chief Safety Officer of the Exercise.

While participating in the Exercise, Mr Lee experienced difficulties breathing following the discharge of six smoke canisters by D1. The smoke canisters had been discharged by D1 for the purpose of providing cover for the simulated attack by Mr Lee’s platoon on the buildings. Subsequently, around the mid-point of the Exercise, Mr Lee collapsed and lost consciousness. He was first conveyed to the Sungei Gedong Medical Centre (“SGMC”) for medical attention. Thereafter, at or around 1.10pm, he was transported to the National University Hospital (“NUH”). He was pronounced dead on the same day at approximately 2.05pm.

Following Mr Lee’s passing, on 14 May and 14 November 2012, the Minister for Defence (“the Minister”), apprised Parliament on the Ministry of Defence’s investigation into the incident (see Singapore Parliamentary Debates, Official Report (14 May 2012) vol 89 (Dr Ng Eng Hen, Minister for Defence) (“the May Debate”) and Singapore Parliamentary Debates, Official Report (14 November 2012) vol 89 (Dr Ng Eng Hen, Minister for Defence) (“the November Debate”)). In particular, during the May Debate, the Minister informed Parliament that the Armed Forces Council had convened an independent Committee of Inquiry (“COI”) to thoroughly examine the circumstances surrounding Mr Lee’s death.

On 11 October 2012, the Minister for Finance (acting through the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Defence pursuant to the Delegation of Powers (Ministry of Finance) (Consolidation) Notification (Cap 1, N6, 2002 Rev Ed)) issued a certificate under s 14(1)(b) of the GPA (“the Certificate”). This certified that the death of Mr Lee would be treated as attributable to service for the purpose of an award under the Singapore Armed Forces (Pensions) Regulations (Cap 295, Rg 9, 2001 Rev Ed) (“the Pensions Regulations”). The plaintiff, while not disputing that the Certificate had been issued, raised issues as to the timing of its issuance. These allegations were not material to the Applications.

The COI concluded its investigations, and the Minister reported the findings of the COI to Parliament in the November Debate. I quote from the relevant portions of the November Debate:

[Mr Lee’s] cause of death was certified by the forensic pathologist of the Health Sciences Authority … to be due to an “acute allergic reaction to zinc chloride due to inhalation of zinc chloride fumes”. Zinc chloride is a primary component of smoke grenades currently used in the SAF.

The COI found that the number of smoke grenades used in the exercise exceeded the limit specified in training safety regulations. The Training Safety Regulations (TSR) stipulate that the minimum distance between each thrown smoke grenade should not be less than 20 metres and that the minimum distance between troops and the thrown smoke grenade should not be less than 10 metres. Based on the exercise layout, not more than two smoke grenades should have been used, but [D1] had thrown six grenades instead. The COI opined that “if the TSR had been complied with, [Mr Lee] and his platoon mates would not have been subjected to smoke that was as dense as that during the incident, and for as long as they were during the incident” and that “reduced exposure to smoke would have reduced the risks of any adverse reactions to the smoke.” The COI concluded that “the cause of death of [Mr Lee] resulted from inhalation of the fumes from the smoke grenades used in the incident”.

The COI is of the opinion that the actions of [D1], a Regular Captain, were negligent as he was aware of the specific TSR but did not comply with it.

To prevent a recurrence, the COI recommended measures to ensure compliance with TSRs through strengthening the role of the Safety Officer and educating commanders and troops on the [TSRs].

[The Ministry of Defence] has relieved the exercise Chief Safety Officer, [D2], and the Platoon Commander who threw the smoke grenades, [D1], of their duties. They have been re-deployed to assignments which do not oversee soldiers in training or operations. Following procedures and due process, the Chief Military Prosecutor will determine if these personnel should be subject to a General Court Martial …, to establish their degree of culpability and if found guilty to mete out the appropriate punishment. Police investigations are also ongoing to determine whether to prosecute the personnel involved in Civil Court.

It is pertinent that the COI only appeared to have found negligence on the part of D1 and not D2.

A coroner’s inquiry was conducted on 22 April, 10 July and 30 August 2013. On 30 August 2013, the State Coroner issued a Coroner’s Certificate, which stated as follows:

On 17th Apr 2012 at 1405 hours, at the [NUH], [Mr Lee] … died from Acute Allergic Reaction due to Inhalation of Zinc Chloride Fumes. Earlier that same day, he participated in a military training exercise. The exercise simulated an attack on 4 buildings in a residential area. During the attack, the platoon commander [D1] discharged smoke from smoke canisters. He said that he discharged one canister at Intervals of 10-second or thereabouts, totalling six. [Mr Lee] inhaled zinc chloride fumes and reacted adversely to the fumes, in what was then thought, to be an asthma attack. According to the pathologist, the history of asthma had predisposed [Mr Lee] to an allergic reaction although he could not be definitive whether the reaction here was due to inhalation of excessive fumes or mere inhalation of fumes. Both were possible. When [Mr Lee] became unconscious, CPR was initiated by [D2] and later, by a combat medic. He was rushed to the [SGMC] 10 minutes from the incident location. Upon arrival, he was already in a collapsed state and the [advanced cardiac life support] protocol was initiated. Shortly thereafter, he was rushed to the [NUH] where resuscitation efforts continued. But he succumbed to the acute episode of allergic reaction.

On 1 April 2015, the plaintiff commenced Suit 311/2015 against the defendants. In a pre-trial conference on 21 May 2015, the assistant registrar ordered that the filing of the defendants’ respective defences be stayed pending the outcome of the Applications.

Summary of the plaintiff’s pleadings

The plaintiff framed the causes of action against D1 and D2, and the AG on quite different footings. This is important.

The plaintiff sued D1 in the tort of negligence. The plaintiff pleaded that D1 was negligent in: failing to adhere to the SAF’s Training Safety Regulations (“the TSR”) when conducting the Exercise; failing to take into consideration Mr Lee’s asthmatic condition (presumably with regard to the Exercise); and detonating six smoke grenades instead of two in full knowledge that the detonation of the additional four grenades was excessive and not connected with the execution of his duties.

The plaintiff also sued D2 in the tort of negligence. The plaintiff pleaded that D2 was in breach of his duty of care as the Chief Safety Officer of the Exercise in: failing to adhere to the TSR when conducting the Exercise; allowing D1 to detonate six grenades instead of two in full knowledge that detonation of the additional four grenades was excessive and not connected with the execution of his duties; failing to ensure that there were medical officers present who were trained to recognise the severity of Mr Lee’s symptoms; failing to ensure that the appropriate medical equipment was available on site in case of medical emergencies; and failing to ensure that Mr Lee received prompt and adequate medical attention from a hospital instead of a military medical facility.

The plaintiff’s cause of action against the AG was for breach of contract. The contract relied upon was an alleged contract of service which Mr Lee and the SAF entered into on or about 8 November 2011 when Mr Lee...

To continue reading

Request your trial
1 cases
  • Nagaenthran a/l K Dharmalingam v PP
    • United Kingdom
    • Court of Three Judges (Singapore)
    • 27 Mayo 2019
    ...(refd) David Augustus Walton v R [1978] AC 788 (refd) Estate of Lee Rui Feng Dominique Sarron, deceased v Najib Hanuk bin Muhammad Jalal [2016] 4 SLR 438 (refd) Henry v British Columbia (AG) [2012] BCJ No 1965; 2012 BCSC 1401 (refd) Iskandar bin Rahmat v PP [2017] 1 SLR 505 (folld) Mohammad......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT