Mukhtiar Singh v Balwyndarjeet Singh

JurisdictionSingapore
CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
JudgeMPH Rubin JC
Judgment Date14 August 1993
Neutral Citation[1993] SGHC 192
Citation[1993] SGHC 192
Subject MatterWhether accident caused by defendant or by unknown motorist,Damages,Measure of damages,Test to be applied,Claim rejected as medical expenses would be absorbed by employer,Personal injuries cases,Test to determine which should be awarded,Factors to be considered in making award,Pain and suffering and loss of amenities due to injuries suffered,Assessment of damages,Whether to apply global, component or mixed approach in awarding damages,Future medical expenses,Tort,Loss of earning capacity,Global approach adopted,Loss of future earnings,Negligence,Question of apportionment of liability if both found negligent
Docket NumberSuit No 955 of 1988
Plaintiff CounselEdmund Nathan (Edmund Nathan & Co)
Defendant CounselNirmala Nair (Madhavan Louis & Pnrs)
Date14 August 1993
Published date19 September 2003

Cur Adv Vult

The plaintiff, Mukhtiar Singh, aged 21 at the material time, and an aircraft technician with the Republic of Singapore Air Force (`RSAF`) was a pillion rider on a motor cycle ridden by his brother-in-law (the defendant) at about 4.30pm on 25 January 1987. The motor cycle was travelling at the material time, on the right-most lane of Lornie Road towards the direction of Thomson Road. It was said that the estimated speed of the motor cycle at the relevant time was 50 kmph.

When the motor cycle was making its way thus, an unknown motorist came from behind, overtook him on his left and cut into the path of the motor cycle about 20 feet in front. The defendant, who was at that time under the influence of alcoholic drinks, panicked, lost his nerve and swerved. To the misery of both riders, the defendant hit the road divider to his immediate right, resulting in both the plaintiff and the defendant being thrown off the motor cycle.

In the event, the plaintiff suffered injuries. The injuries sustained by the plaintiff, the treatment he received subsequently over a period of time, and the residual effect could be condensed as follows:

(A) Injuries

(1) Open grade III fracture of the upper one third of the right humerus;

(2) Cut right brachial artery; and

(3) Cut musculocutaneous nerve.

(B) Number of operations

(1) wound debridement and plating of fractured humerus with repair of cut artery and nerve done on 25 January 1987;

(2) arteriogram done showed thrombosis of the brachial artery;

(3) re-exploration and vein grafting of brachial artery done on 29 January 1987;

(4) disarticulation of right thumb on 24 February 1987;

(5) contralateral pedicled arm flap to improve skin cover of right hand on 24 January 1989;

(6) turning right index finger into a thumb (pollicization) on 19 June 1989;

(7) adductorplasty on 13 February 1990; and

(8) opponenplasty on 25 February 1992. ( C) Residuals

(1) 35cm scar over right arm;

(2) faint scarring of left arm and faint scarring of left thigh;

(3) right elbow has 0 to 90 degrees flexion out of a maximum of 150 degrees;

(4) no supination of forearm;

(5) pronation of forearm of 0 to 45 degrees out of a maximum of 90 degrees;

(6) wrist has 0 to 20 degrees dorsiflexion out of a maximum of 60 degrees and 0 to 45 degrees palmar flexion out of a maximum of 50 degrees;

(7) unable to make a flat hand;

(8) grip strength of right hand 7kg. Normal grip strength of adult is 30 to 40kg;

(9) no precision tip pinch; and

(10) functional outcome of right hand is about 50% of normal.



Three medical reports included in the agreed bundle (AB-12, AB-30/31 and AB-36/37) were referred to by both counsel during the trial. To appreciate the effect of the injuries suffered by the plaintiff and the treatments given to him, it would be useful to refer to a specialist report put up by Dr Teoh Lam Chuan, a consultant hand surgeon and the head of the department of hand surgery. Dr Teoh`s report (AB-30/31) dated 25 October 1989 reads as follows:

25 October 1989

Specialist Report

Mukhtiar Singh Kartar Singh M /23NRIC No : 1738391

Mr Mukhtiar Singh sustained a severe injury to the whole of his right upper limb two years ago. He had his initial treatment in Tan Tock Seng Hospital. Further report from Tan Tock Seng Hospital may answer the questions (a) and (b) listed in your 12 June 1989 letter.



He was seen and treated by me in the department of hand surgery, Singapore General Hospital as from 5 December 1988.

He had a complete loss of right thumb with extensive scarring and soft tissue loss. He had a two stage surgery to reconstruct his right thumb. Stage one was that of a contralateral pedicled lateral arm flap to improve the skin cover of the right hand. This was performed on 24 January 1989 and he was admitted from 23 January 1989 to 20 February 1989 for this reconstruction. He was readmitted from 19 June 1989 to 4 July 1989 for stage two reconstruction. This consists of turning the right index finger into a thumb which is known as pollicization.

He is currently still on outpatient hand therapy to improve his right hand function.

He was reviewed on 13 September 1989 for the purpose of writing this specialist report.

Clinical assessment of his right upper limb was carried out. His right hand had acceptable cosmesis. The new thumb was capable of tip pinch and key pinch, but the power was still weak. The remaining middle, ring and small fingers had good function. He had no forearm supination and the pronation was limited to 0-45 degrees. He also had a 35cm scar over the arm.

Opinion: He sustained a very severe right upper limb injury which required multiple surgery and reconstruction. The cosmesis and function of his right hand had improved with reconstruction. However he may need further surgery to improve the power of his right thumb. But the final outcome of his right hand at best will be about 50% of normal. The dexterity in his right hand is also further compromised by the stiff forearm supination/pronation.

He will not be able to return to work as an aircraft technician since this demands rotatory functions of his right hand. He will have difficulty in manipulating tools to loosen or tighten nuts and screws.

...

(signed)

Dr Teoh Lam Chuan

Consultant Hand Surgeon & Head

Dept Of Hand Surgery



A further specialist report (AB-36/37) given by Dr Agnes BH Tan of the department of hand surgery, Singapore General Hospital, dated 21 January 1992 reads thus:

21 January 1992

Specialist Report

Mukhtiar Singh Kartar Singh M/26 SD 1738391

Please see previous specialist report (SGH/MR5133/89) dated 25 October 1989 written by Dr Teoh Lam Chuan.



Further to this, the patient had a revision to the reconstructed right thumb with adductor plasty on 13 February 1990. He is currently awaiting another revision with opponenplasty which is scheduled on 25 February 1992.

He was reviewed on 8 January 1992 for the purpose of this specialist report.

Clinically, his right upper limb has acceptable cosmesis. He has a 35cm scar over the arm. The right elbow has 0-90o flexion. He has no forearm supination and limited pronation of 0-45o. His right wrist has 0-20o dorsiflexion and 0-45o palmar flexion.

The right hand has a reconstructed thumb and three other fingers. The middle, ring and small fingers have good function. The reconstructed thumb is adducted and the patient is unable to make a flat hand. The grip strength of his right hand averages around 7kg. The reconstructed thumb is capable of key pinch of 2kg power. He is able to write with his right hand. However there is no chuck pinch, precision tip pinch or opposition.

Opinion: Mr Singh sustained a very severe injury to his right upper limb for which multiple reconstructive surgery were carried out to restore function. Despite these, he still has limited elbow flexion, forearm rotation and wrist movement which compromised his right hand dexterity. Although the hand function had greatly improved with reconstruction of the thumb, he still needs further reconstructive procedure to improve the thumb function further. At best, the final functional outcome of his right hand will be about 50% of normal. He would be most compromised in functions that involve rotatory movement of the forearm and thumb opposition.

...

(signed)

Dr Agnes BH Tan

Senior Registrar

Department of Hand Surgery

Singapore General Hospital



The defendant was charged subsequently at the subordinate court for driving whilst under the influence of drinks to such an extent as to be incapable of having proper control of the vehicle. He pleaded guilty to that charge and was accordingly convicted. At this trial too, he admitted that he was under the influence of alcohol at the material time, having consumed four or five large bottles of `Tiger` beer before he set out on his motor cycle and that his reflexes were impaired by reason of his intoxication. He claimed that he panicked when he swerved to the right.

On the question of liability, the only issue was whether the accident was caused solely by the negligence of the defendant or that of the unknown motorist, or, if both of them were negligent, how the liability should be apportioned between them.

The court was informed that the Motor Insurers` Bureau, which would meet the liability of the unknown motorist if any blame were to be attributed to the motorist, had intimated to the solicitors for the defendant that it would accept whatever apportionment the court would deem fit to award in the circumstances.

Counsel for the defendant contended that the evidence placed before the court had established that the speed of the motor cycle at the material time was only 50kmph and that the swerving by the defendant to his right was more due to the sudden intrusion of the unknown motorist about 20ft in front. Counsel submitted that his swerving to the right was entirely reasonable in the circumstances and urged the court to attach 70% liability to the unknown motorist and the remainder to the defendant.

The court was informed that Lornie Road on which the defendant was travelling was a dual carriageway with a divider and metal railings separating the traffic. The part of the road where the defendant was had three lanes and he occupied the right outermost lane close to the divider.

The defendant admitted that his reflexes were impaired as a result of consumption of alcoholic drinks. The level of intoxication as reported in AB-7 (admitted in evidence without any objection) showed that the blood specimen provided by the defendant had a blood alcohol concentration of 172mg of ethanol per 100ml of blood. When asked why he was at the right outermost lane which was intended for fast moving...

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