Lai Chi Kay and Others v Lee Kuo Shin

JudgeChua F A J
Judgment Date27 February 1981
Neutral Citation[1981] SGHC 7
Docket NumberSuit No 3002 of 1978
Date27 February 1981
Published date19 September 2003
Plaintiff CounselTan Kok Quan (Lee & Lee)
Citation[1981] SGHC 7
Defendant CounselRoland Wong (Wong & Partners)
CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
Subject MatterMedical student awarded $727,514,Brain injury,Court's discretion,s 9 Civil Law Act (Cap 30),Whether claim should be allowe Damages (Personal Injury or Death),Interest not allowed when damages awarded in running-down cases,Damages,Personal injuries cases,Interest,Measure of damages,Third party claim by mother of injured for expenses

On 19 June 1977 Lai Chi Kay and Wong Keng Yean were walking on the pavement in Beach Road, Singapore, when Lee Kuo Shin, (the defendant) so negligently drove a motor car No EA 5451 J along Beach Road that he caused the car to mount the pavement and collided with and knocked down Lai Chi Kay and Wong Keng Yean. Lai Chi Kay and Wong Keng Yean sustained injuries and they together with Tam Tuan Yi, and Lai Kwok Him, the mother and father respectively of Lai Chi Kay, commenced this action against the defendant for damages.

In respect of the claims of Lai Chi Kay and Wong Keng Yean liability is admitted by the defendant.
In respect of the claim of Wong Keng Yean quantum of damages is agreed at $8,500. In respect of the claims of the parents of Lai Chi Kay the defendant denies liability.

Lai Chi Kay, who is from Hong Kong, was a fourth year medical student on a Singapore Government scholarship at the University of Singapore at the time of the accident and he was then 24 years old.
As a result of the accident Lai suffered extensive brain injuries, crushing all his hopes of being a doctor as he was unable to complete his medical studies. After the accident and following his discharge from hospital in April 1978 he resumed his medical studies for some time but in January 1980 the Medical Board convened for his case and was of the view that it was most probable that he would never be able to complete the medical course as a result of the injuries sustained by him in the accident in June 1977. The Board recommended that he be trained for one of the para-medical technical courses. In May 1980 Lai took up radiography but had to abandon it four months later as he could make no headway. Lai is at present not gainfully employed.

Tam Tuan Yi on being told of the accident by telephone by the university authorities promptly flew from Hong Kong to Singapore to be with her son.
She said she visited her son daily when he was in hospital and after his discharge from hospital and when he went back to medical school she visited him daily at the hostel to see to his needs and at times go out for a walk with him. In November 1978 she took her son back to Hong Kong where they stayed until March 1979 and then returned to Singapore. Madam Tam said that before she came to Singapore in June 1977 she was doing embroidery work at home to supplement the family income and her husband was and is still a taxi driver in Hong Kong.

Madam Tam`s claim is for special damages suffered by her and they are for air fares, accommodation and food, taxi fares, and loss of earnings from embroidery work.

Lai Chi Kay suffered severe brain injury.
On admission to the Singapore General Hospital he was deeply unconscious. On the same day of the accident he was transferred to the Department of Neurosurgery & Neurology, Tan Tock Seng Hospital. He had a very gross swelling of the brain because of the injury. He developed a left subdural hitgrome, a condition where there was a failure to absorb fluid secreted in the brain. He needed surgery to correct this - a minor procedure by which a valve and a tube were inserted into the brain and the other end of the tube was inserted into the abdomen so that fluid in the brain drained into the abdomen. He still has the tube. By 14 July 1977 he was still in coma. His progress in hospital had been minimal.

On 14 July 1977 Mr James Khoo, the Neurosurgeon, reported that

in the context of the severity of his injury, the length of coma continuing, it is unlikely that he will be able to lead an independent useful life again although a full and definitive prognosis cannot be given at this early stage.

By 15 August 1977 Lai was able to sit up in a chair with fair control over his head posture and able to move all his limbs spontaneously.
He was able to breath without the tracheostomy and able to obey commands. He was transferred to the department of rehabilitation on 29 August 1977. With physical, speech and occupational therapy, Lai gradually became ambulant and became able to carry on a simple conversation by December 1977. He was discharged for outpatient treatment on 5 April 1978.

He now walks quite well with a spastic right hemiparetic gait and he is able to write and read as well as feed and cloth himself.

On 8 July 1978 Mr James Khoo reported:

His main problems are mainly (1) memory for recent events and storing new information - which is improving but still poor; (2) emotional liability, part if which may be due to the frustration of not being able to graduate. This is however also improving.

Dr G Baraltom, Senior Neurosurgeon, Tan Tock Seng Hospital, who is familiar with the medical history of Lai Chi Kay, examined Lai on 15 October 1980 at outpatients.
His report reads:

He was noted to speak very slowly and his speech had a scanning character. He had a very poor memory and was aware of this defect. He often lost his way because of this and had to be accompanied when travelling. His mood was extremely labile and he was particularly upset by the fact that he could not complete his medical studies. He had recently failed his examination in the School of Radiographers. He was aware of all his deficiencies and this intensified his suffering.

This man will not be able to pursue any academic course of study because of his poor memory and intellect. In addition he has severe disability because of his injury and this is made worse by the fact that he has insight into his disability. These deficiencies are permanent.

Speaking of his examination of Lai on 15 October 1980 Mr Baraltom said in evidence:

I saw him on 15 October 1980 to put up a report. Yes that was the only one occasion. I saw him at outpatient. It was mainly talking to him and it took about 20 minutes. I did not put him through any physical test. I tried to test his memory by asking him to remember a series of numbers and I talked to him. I talked to him about his memory capacity; I enquired into whether he had any physical symptoms like giddiness, headache. He had no headache or giddiness. On that occasion his mother was with him. Yes I spoke to the mother about his case. Two-thirds of the time the first plaintiff was talking. I would not agree that most of my opinion was based on what the mother told me ... Yes my conclusions were based on what plaintiff said during our conversation ... No, I did not put first plaintiff through any written test. Yes there are certain established tests. I am not competent to apply that. I think for that period of time I could give a comprehensive report. I have been a neurosurgeon for 15 years; I have seen many such head injuries and seen similar patterns of disability.

Mr Baraltom in his evidence said that Lai was not able to find his way back from the toilet to outpatients; that he could not retain eight random digits for more than half a minute.
Mr Baraltom said that Lai was emotionally labile and he got very depressed because of his mental disability and that Lai was very aware of his disability and Mr Baraltom expressed the view that Lai`s awareness increases his suffering a great deal. Mr Baraltom said:

Compared with a person who is paralysed, very difficult to be objective, but my own view is that this form of mental disability is a kind of mental paralysis which would produce more suffering than a physical defect particularly for a person who was in the course of becoming a doctor. It depends on what his previous enjoyments were. I would personally find it worse to be in his position than to be bedridden and being able to read.

Dr Gwee Ah Leng, a neurologist, examined Lai Chi Kay on 20 September 1978 and submitted a report to the defendant`s solicitors.
Dr Gwee reported:

Examination on 20 September 1978 shows a cooperative young man with normal pulse and blood pressure. He has a tracheostomy scar in his neck, and has no obvious psychological or emotional disturbance. He was somewhat clumsy in his left side and walked slowly, but has no definite defect in motor, sensory or coordinative side. The special senses are normal. His speech tends to be slurred due to deficit in articulation but can be easily understood. Tests of memory shows no clear defect except in medium range memory which is impaired. X-ray shows evidence of burr noles and a tube - most likely a snunt.

My opinion is that he has sustained a contusion of brain in the accident resulting in a protracted coma, and convalescence. He has residual loss of memory, and impaired articulation of motor ability in the right side. There is also some loss of intellectual ability compared to his achievements prior to his accident.

However, he has made a good recovery and is in fact back to his studies. I have no doubt that he is capable of further improvement but his impaired intellect may interfere with his ability to complete the medical course, although he should be able to live a reasonable life with independent activity please. (sic.)

Dr Gwee examined Lai further on 1 September 1980 and he reported:

My opinion is that he will never be fit to follow a professional course or for that matter, any training leading to a vocation. At best, he may do very low-skill jobs like a junior clerk example.

In his evidence Dr Gwee said:

On the first occasion (20 September 1978), I carried out standard tests, for ability movement, sensation, balance and also the mental aspect which related to understanding,

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