Hongkong Bank Trustee (Singapore) Ltd v Rajinder Singh

JudgeYong Pung How CJ
Judgment Date15 January 1992
Neutral Citation[1992] SGHC 6
Docket NumberSuit No 5801 of 1984
Date15 January 1992
Published date19 September 2003
Plaintiff CounselLoh Boon Huat and Steven Ang (Godwin & Co)
Citation[1992] SGHC 6
Defendant CounselNK Pillai (Harry Elias & Partners)
CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
Subject MatterDependency claim,Determination of available surplus,Damages,Loss of future earnings,Measure of damages,Principles applied,Determination of annual income,ss 8 & 12 Civil Law Act (Cap 30, 1970 Ed),Deduction of income tax,Death,Merging of dependency claim with estate claim,Whether overseas allowance may be included,German national employed by German company to work in Indonesia,Determination of multiplier and multiplicand

Cur Adv Vult

On 31 December 1981 at about 3.50pm, Hans-Werner Pilz, a German national, was standing on the grass verge of the East Coast Parkway near the Singapore Swimming Club, when he was run down by a motor vehicle driven by the defendant. He died at about 4.45pm on the same day soon after arriving at the Singapore General Hospital. This action was brought by the Hongkong Bank Trustee (Singapore) Ltd as the administrators of his estate under ss 8 and 12 respectively of the Civil Law Act (Cap 43, 1970 Ed) (as they stood before the 1987 amendments) to recover damages. The plaintiffs`s case was that the defendant`s negligent driving was the sole cause of the accident and the deceased`s death.

At the commencement of the trial, the defendant admitted liability and the following items of damages were agreed:

a Funeral expenses $7,843.79

b Expenses in obtaining letters of administration 1,651.01

c Transport charges for the deceased`s effects 71.54

d Telephone calls (for funeral and repatriation arrangements) 750.00

Total special damages $10,316.34

e Loss of expectation of life 7,000.00

The only issues that remain to be decided relate to (a) the dependency claim and (b) the loss of future earnings.

Dependency claim

Mrs Edeltraud Pilz, the deceased`s mother, was the only dependant. In her evidence, she testified that from July 1981 the deceased had agreed to give her as support an average of about DM900 per month. Earlier, he had been giving her DM500 per month. The money was given monthly, but, if he was to be away for a while, he would give her a lump sum in advance, as he did in July 1991, when he gave her DM5,000 from part of the sale proceeds of his car. Counsel submitted therefore that a suitable multiplicand should be DM900 per month. Counsel also submitted that she had already survived the deceased for ten years, and, notwithstanding her advanced age, it would be fair to add another three years to this to arrive at a multiplier of 13 years, making a total for the dependency claim of DM900 [times ] 12 [times ] 13 = DM140,400.

The defendant`s counsel cast doubt on the deceased`s mother`s evidence.
He contended that it was difficult to believe that neither her elder son nor her daughter made any contribution to her maintenance, and that the elder son in fact charged her rent; it was more likely that the DM900 which she received was paid by her two sons in equal shares. This inference would derive support from the fact that the DM5,000 given to her by the deceased in July 1981 was probably meant to cover the period of nine months to March 1982 when he was expecting to return from Indonesia.

I watched the deceased`s mother as she gave evidence.
Allowing for some occasional confusion because of difficulties experienced in the interpretation of her evidence which was given in German, she appeared to me to be a truthful witness and I had no hesitation in accepting her evidence that she was expecting to receive contributions in support from the deceased at the rate of DM900 per month at the time of his death. Her evidence in this was also corroborated by her daughter Anne-Marie Neumair who also gave evidence.

The deceased was 33 years old at the time of his death and was single; his mother was then 56.
In this case, she had survived him for ten years by the time the case came to trial, but the unfortunate delays in the courts before cases are finally heard, and the fact of the dependent mother`s survival for this period, do not mean that the actual period of survival must be reflected in the multiplier. It must be calculated in accordance with known principles and practice as at the date of the death of the deceased which gave rise to the cause of action. I was reminded by the defendant`s counsel of the more relevant consideration, namely, that in the determination of the multiplicand and the multiplier, it is necessary to take into account not only the respective ages of the deceased and his dependant, but also the possibility of the deceased eventually marrying and the consequent expectation of a reduction in his contribution to the dependant`s support: Ng Siew Choo v Tan Kian Choon [1990] 2 MLJ 333 In this context, it has to be remembered that neither the elder son nor the daughter felt constrained to make any contribution to the mother`s support. Taking all these considerations into account in the present case, I am of the opinion that the correct multiplicand is DM750 per month and the multiplier 8 years, to arrive at the dependant`s claim of DM750 [times ] 12 [times ] 8 = DM72,000.

Loss of future earnings

In this case, the assessment of the damages to be awarded under this heading presented some considerable difficulty. It involved a foreigner who was killed in Singapore; in respect of his personal tax and other circumstances, there was unfortunately less than complete evidence, and the assessment of his future employment prospects depended very much on the evidence of a single witness, his friend Helmut Reiss (PW3), who was a Boeing 737 captain in the German national airline, Lufthansa. In the circumstances, the court has had to do the best it could.

The facts, as found by me, were as follows.
At the time of his death, the deceased was a professional pilot. He had obtained a private pilot`s licence in 1974, and then commercial pilot`s licences in 1975 when he went to work for Alpha-Flug, a small company. In 1977 he moved on to Pleuger-Flug, another small company with six to eight pilots. He appears to have stayed only a few months and in September 1977, joined Deutsche Luft Transport (DLT), a larger company with 30 to 40 pilots which was a subsidiary of Lufthansa and which carried passengers...

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