Lim Guan Cheng v JSD Construction Pte Ltd and Another

CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
JudgeLai Kew Chai J
Judgment Date26 November 2003
Neutral Citation[2003] SGHC 293
Citation[2003] SGHC 293
Subject MatterHearsay,Quotations relied on by building surveyor to support his expert evidence as to reasonable amount for rectification works,Opinion and belief,Building surveyor not quantity surveyor,Whether amounted to hearsay evidence.,Evidence,Admissibility of evidence,Whether competent to give expert evidence on costs of rectification works
Defendant CounselRonald Choo and Sim Chee Siong (Rajah and Tann)
Plaintiff CounselThomas Lei (Lawrence Chua and Partners)
Date26 November 2003
Docket NumberSuit No 1615 of 2001 (Registrar's
Published date23 December 2003


1 The plaintiff is the owner of 281 River Valley Road, Singapore (‘the property’), which is a two-storey residential ‘peranakan’ house. The property is under conservation. The second defendants are the owners of the adjoining building known as 279 River Valley Road, Singapore (‘the Union House’). The first defendants are the contractors of the second defendants and they were engaged to pull down and rebuild the Union House. In the course of construction, they negligently caused cracks to the walls of the property. The soil and foundation of the property were also affected.

2 The damage to the property was so severe that on 7 August 2000, the Building Control Authority issued a Closure Order under section 24 of the Building Control Act, Cap 29 after a joint inspection with the first defendants. The plaintiff and her family were evicted from the property as it was declared unsafe for human habitation. The plaintiff had to live in a rented property.

3 Liability for the damages was admitted by both defendants and damages were ordered by the High Court to be assessed by the Registrar of the Supreme Court. When interlocutory judgment was entered, the high Court also awarded damages for rental from December 2000 to December 2001. Assessment of damages in relation to the cost of renting alternative premises was for the period from August 2000 to November 2000 and for the remaining period from January 2002 to the date of restoration of the property to its fitness for human habitation.

4 The damages suffered by the plaintiff were therefore (1) the costs of rectification works to be carried out on the property and (2) costs of rental of alternative premises.

5 On 18 June 2003 the Assistant Registrar awarded to the plaintiff the following sums: (1) the sum of $360,000.00 for the rectification works; (2) pre-trial rental at $66,586.67; and (3) post-trial rental at $21,413.33. Interest was awarded at 6% p.a. from the date of the Writ of Summons to the date of interim payment for the sum of $66,586.67 and at 6% p.a. from the date of interim payment to the date of judgment for $22,586.67. Costs were awarded against both defendants.

6 Both defendants appealed to the High Court against the awards made by the Assistant Registrar. At the conclusion of the hearing of the appeal before me, I dismissed the appeal with costs. They were unable to show that the Assistant Registrar was wrong. Being dissatisfied with my decisions, the defendants have filed their notice of appeal to the Court of Appeal. I now set out my reasons.

Basic Facts

7 The property was constructed in 1910 or thereabouts. It was constructed using traditional strip foundations and reinforced concrete structural framework. Steel I beams were included to the central atrium and rear out kitchen areas. The infill panels were constructed using brick which have been plastered and painted over throughout. The second storey consists of a timber joint framework incorporating timber strip boarding over. The roof consists of a main pitched roof incorporating rafter/purlin framework with clay tiles over, a corrugated translucent sheeting roofing system to the central atrium and a mono pitched roof incorporating steel profiled sheeting to the rear area.

8 The excavation work carried out in the Union House by the first defendants in March/April 2000 caused extensive damage. There was cracking to the front, side gable end and rear walls and further cracking to the concrete/substrate flooring throughout the property. The internal walls, ceilings and roofs also suffered cracks.

9 It was not in dispute before the Assistant Registrar that substantial movement of the property had occurred. The developmental works, including the excavation, in the Union House caused ground settlement under and adjacent to the gable end and front elevation of the walls of the property. In August 2000 further ground movement had occurred to the property. They were serious cracks, which are fully described in the Final Report of Mr Bruce Loggie Jamieson (‘Mr Loggie’).

10 Mr Loggie recommended that the repairs and replacement works should reinstate the property to its original condition in relation to both the internal and external areas. Such rectifications include demolition and excavation works; there would also be reinstatement of the main structural brick walls. Internally, the floors at Level 1, including the front porch and rear out-kitchen area, have to be hacked up. A damp proof membrane system is provided and the system has to dress all walls to minimum height of 200 mm throughout. All internal and external floor areas have to be re-screed, ready to receive tiled floor finish throughout. The staircase has to be repaired with replacement timber (teak) to match the existing staircase. New timber (teak) rafters and floorboards to match the existing items have to be provided and installed.

11 In relation to the walls of the first and second storey, the rectifications consist of the re-construction of the internal atrium plasterboard partition walls. The timber flooring has to be raised. All internal bedroom partition walls have to be reconstructed to match the existing construction. The cracked brick walls, notably the gable end, front and rear walls, have to be removed and ‘re-stitched’ to receive plaster finish.

12 The rectifications of the main roof consist of removing all roof tiles and setting them aside for reuse. After matching timber structural framework is installed, the roof require the supply and installation of new insulation foil, timber battens and the re-fixing of the new roof tiles, using galvanised nails at 400 mm centres. As for the central atrium roof, after the existing structural framework and roof sheets have been re-positioned and installed, matching replacements of some framework and roof sheets would have to be supplied and installed.

13 The rectifications also entail plumbing and drainage works and electrical works. All damaged plumbing/drainage works occasioned by the movement and reinstatement works are to be replaced as necessary.

14 The rectification works also include a complete overhaul, and installation, of the existing doors, windows, frames and architraves. New windows and doors, as indicated in the schedule of works, have to be supplied and installed. The finishes involve the re-plastering of all internal and external walls, the front porch and the south boundary walls. As for the floor tiles at Level 1 it is specified that new, matching ‘original antique’ floor tiles to external front and internal areas are to be supplied and installed. Last but not least, a provision has to be made for the payment of professional fees in respect of the design details, site supervision and submissions to the relevant authorities. The rate of 10% of the rectification costs was provided.

Plaintiff’s case for rectification

15 The rectification works comprise the rectifications to the foundations and rectifications other than foundation works. The plaintiff relied on the expert evidence of Mr Raymond Hatfield (‘Mr Hatfield’) from Messrs PR Consultants Offshore in relation to the proposed method of rectification of the foundation. In relation to the rectification of other works, the plaintiff led the evidence of Mr Loggie of Messrs. Bruce James Building Surveyors Pte Ltd. Mr Loggie testified that he had organised and received competitive tenders from contractors for the entire rectification works. He gave evidence on the costs of rectifications.

16 In his two reports, Mr Hatfield noted that the soil beneath the existing boundary wall, which abuts the Union House, has been significantly disturbed. The soil had suffered reduction in strength due to loosening by disturbance. Mr Hatfield opined that “it is imperative to base any remedial foundation measures at or below the level of the No. 279 basement.” This would be approximately 1.0m below the level that any likely alternative proposal for underpinning or parallel support might be installed.

17 Since micropiling was no longer available after the construction of the Union House, Mr Hatfield recommended replacement of the boundary wall by a new wall erected upon a reinforced concrete strip footing based at the level of the No. 279 basement. This would properly reinstate the boundary wall upon a dependable, undisturbed base. It was recognised that the installation of underpinning, or of a parallel support scheme based at sufficient dept, would require much tedious hand excavation and certainly cause further settlement damage to the wall. The boundary wall was at that time based upon an unreinforced masonry foundation. It had already dropped in the order of 200mm, and had been severely cracked. In Mr Hatfield’s view, grouting could never fully penetrate the fine cracks to reinstate the integrity of the wall. He also stressed that replacement of the wall upon a strip footing lower down would not be more expensive and offered far greater assurance than the alternative of underpinning or parallel support with their attendant risk of further damage to the wall.

18 This was the evidence led by the plaintiff on the foundation works and, prominently from the start, it was noted...

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