Ng Siew Choo v Tan Kian Choon

CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
JudgeYong Pung How J
Judgment Date16 March 1990
Neutral Citation[1990] SGHC 19
Citation[1990] SGHC 19
Defendant CounselTS Tan (TS Tan)
Plaintiff CounselShue Min Ngian (Goh Poh & Partners)
Published date19 September 2003
Docket NumberSuit No 1801 of 1987
Date16 March 1990
Subject MatterWhether wrong principles of law acted on Whether award entirely erroneous,Deceased working in family arrangement,Appeals,Registrar's assessment of damages,Damages (Personal Injury or Death),s 7 r 5 Intestate Succession Act (Cap 146),Quantification,Civil Procedure,Principles to be applied,Services contributed reducible to money value,Dependency,ss 8 & 12 Civil Law Act (Cap 30, 1970 Ed),Damages

Cur Adv Vult

On 3 June 1986, Ng Choon Kiat (the deceased) was the front seat passenger in a motor car driven by the defendant, when the car mounted the pavement and collided with a tree. The defendant was killed. Because the cause of action arose before 1987, any claim arising from it would not be governed by the present Civil Law Act (Cap 43,1988 Ed), but by the Civil Law Act (Cap 30, 1970 Ed) (the Act), to which the references in this judgment will be made.

On 24 July 1987, the plaintiff, who is a sister of the deceased, as the administratrix of the estate of the deceased, brought this action for the benefit of the estate under s 8 of the Act, and for the benefit of the mother of the deceased as his dependent under s 12 of the Act, alleging that the accident was caused by the negligence of the defendant.
On 3 August 1987, the defendant delivered a defence admitting negligence, but denying that the plaintiff had suffered any damage, loss or expense.

On 25 March 1988, the plaintiff obtained an order under O 27 r 3 for interlocutory judgment to be entered upon this admission of liability, and for damages to be assessed, with costs to be taxed.
On 2 June 1989, the registrar awarded general damages of $37,800 on the estate`s claim, based on a multiplicand of $600 per month, a multiplier of 15 and an available surplus of 35%. The registrar dismissed the mother`s claim for dependency. By consent, damages of $6,500 were awarded for loss of expectation of life, and special damages of $3,000 were awarded for funeral expenses and $750 for probate expenses. The plaintiff has appealed against the award on the estate`s claim, and against the dismissal of the mother`s claim for dependency. The appeal on the estate`s claim which is based on the multiplicand has not been pressed, and the main thrust of the appeal has been directed towards the mother`s claim for dependency.

The deceased was 22 years old at the time of his death.
He was then a hawker, and, together with an elder sister, Choon Lan, and a younger sister, Beng Choo, was helping their mother, Lee Shok Koon, to run an ice-water stall. The licence for the stall was in fact in the name of their father, Ng Kim Bee, to whom the Housing and Development Board had granted the licence on 17 May 1979. The father had left the family some time in 1980, and had not thereafter either maintained the family or been involved in the running of the stall. After the father`s departure, it was run by the mother and the elder sister. After completing his Secondary 4 level at school, the deceased helped at the stall for about a year before doing his national service. On completing his national service, the deceased returned to work full-time at the stall with the elder sister. The younger sister also helped at the stall after school. By that time, their mother`s attendance at the stall was reduced to only one to two hours per day.

The stall appears to have been a fairly successful business.
Although, in the nature of such businesses, no accounts are kept, the mother claimed that in the periods when the deceased was working at the stall, before and after his national service, the gross takings were more than $6,000 per month. She paid salaries to her children: $400 per month to the deceased before he went for his national service, and $600 per month after he returned; and $500 per month to each of the two sisters. No Central Provident Fund contributions were paid for any of them. After deducting other expenses, the stall would turn in a net profit of $2,000-$3,000 per month, which she kept for herself. Her bank statements showed that she was depositing on average about $1,000 per month in the period between 1984 and 1986.

In 1984, the mother had approached the Housing and Development Board to transfer the stall licence from the father to the deceased.
The father had consented to this. The application was turned down by the Board, however, as the deceased was then a minor. After the death of the deceased, the father claimed back the stall. The mother thought that he had done this probably because he had to support his other family, but that he would not have done so if the deceased had been alive and was still running the stall. She felt no rancour about this particular aspect of the matter because, even if the father had not taken back the stall, she would have had difficulty in running it, without the deceased.

Estate`s claim

It might be simpler if I deal first with the appeal on the estate`s claim.
The principle on which a court reviews the assessment of damages is well settled. In Flint v Lovell [1935] 1 KB 354, in a statement of the law which has often been cited, Greer LJ said:

I think it right to say that this court will be disinclined to reverse the finding of a trial judge as to the amount of damages merely because they think that if they had tried the case in the first instance they would have given a lesser sum. In order to justify reversing the trial judge on the question of amount of damages, it will generally be necessary that this court should be convinced either that the judge acted upon some wrong principle of law, or that amount awarded was so extremely high or so very small as to make it, in the judgment of this court, an entirely erroneous estimate of the damages to which the plaintiff is entitled.

In this action, it was contended by the plaintiff that the appropriate multiplicand should have been fixed by the registrar at a higher level than $210 per month.
The figure of $210 per month was deduced by the plaintiff from the multiplicand of $7,200 and the available surplus of 35% which were determined by the registrar. The determination of the loss of future earnings during the so-called `lost years` must necessarily take into account not only a fair and reasonable assessment of what the net future earnings might be, but also the multiplier to be applied to arrive at the final figure of loss. In doing so, it is also necessary to bear in mind that earnings are subject to all the vagaries of life. In this case, taking all the usual considerations into account, a determination of a multiplicand of $7,200 and a multiplier of 15 could not, in my judgment, be open to challenge by the plaintiff.

The available surplus for the estate is what is deemed to have remained after deducting the deceased`s living and other personal expenses from his net earnings.
In Chan Heng Wah & Anor v Peh Thiam Choh & Anor [1988] 1 MLJ 74 , the Court of Appeal came to the conclusion, after reviewing a number of leading authorities on the subject, that the available surplus in that case should be 40% of the net prospective earnings. An important factor which was taken...

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