Tan Seng Kim v Koh Suat Eng

Judgment Date14 March 1968
Date14 March 1968
Docket NumberCivil Appeal No Y35 of 1967
CourtFederal Court (Singapore)
Tan Seng Kim
Koh Suat Eng and another

Wee Chong Jin CJ


A V Winslow J


Tan Ah Tah FJ

Civil Appeal No Y35 of 1967

Federal Court

Damages–Measure of damages–Personal injuries cases–Death intervening through causes unrelated to accident at an age far lower than the normal life expectancy–Damages proportionately reduced

The appellant, one Tan Seng Kim (“Tan”), was driving a motor car along Jalan Besar when he collided with one Koh Hock Wah (“Koh”), a 52-year-old schoolteacher, who was crossing the road from left to right in front of Tan. Koh suffered severe injuries as a result of the accident but made good recovery despite some residual disabilities. He subsequently died some three years and seven months later for reasons unconnected with the accident. The respondents brought this action on behalf of Koh's estate. The trial judge found that Tan was primarily to blame for the accident as he was then overtaking a taxi at a speed which was found to be excessive in all the circumstances of the case and on the wrong side of the road. Special damages in the sum of $5,338 and general damages in the sum of $20,000 were awarded to Koh's estate. Tan was found liable to the extent of two-thirds of the total damages awarded. Tan appealed against liability and the award of damages, in particular on the issue of whether general damages at $20,000 were correctly assessed.

Held, allowing the appeal in part:

(1) The court agreed with the trial judge's findings that Tan had been travelling at an excessive speed on the wrong side of the road. It was clear that Tan was, in all circumstances, primarily to blame for the accident: at [4].

(2) In assessing general damages, three broad heads should be considered: (a) pain and suffering; (b) loss of amenities of life; and (c) loss of future earnings. In this case, no question arose under the third head: at [8] and [9].

(3) From the record, neither counsel in the court below addressed the principles on which damages under the first two heads should be assessed where death intervened through causes unrelated to the accident at an age far lower than the normal span of life: at [10].

(4) Had Koh not died before the trial at a far earlier age than the normal life expectation through causes unconnected with the injuries sustained in this accident, it would have been difficult to criticise the award of $20,000 damages under the heads of “pain and suffering” and “loss of amenities of life”. However, he died much earlier and in the circumstances, both logic and realistic approach demanded that damages under these heads should be proportionately...

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