Teo Gim Tiong v Krishnasamy Pushpavathi

Judgment Date24 July 2014
Date24 July 2014
Docket NumberCivil Appeal No 132 of 2013
CourtCourt of Appeal (Singapore)
Teo Gim Tiong
Krishnasamy Pushpavathi (legal representative of the estate of Maran s/o Kannakasabai, deceased)

[2014] SGCA 38

Sundaresh Menon CJ


Chao Hick Tin JA


VK Rajah JA

Civil Appeal No 132 of 2013

Court of Appeal

Choses in Action—Assignment—Incapacity—Probate and administration—Plaintiff passed away intestate before action was determined—No letters of administration applied for or granted—Plaintiff's mother purported to accept offer to settle made to plaintiff—Whether mother had capacity to accept offer on behalf of plaintiff's estate—Whether plaintiff's mother's incapacity could be cured under Rules of Court (Cap 322, R 5, 2006 Rev Ed) —Rules of Court (Cap 322, R 5, 2006 Rev Ed)

The plaintiff, Maran s/o Kannakasabai (‘Maran’), sustained severe injuries in a motor vehicle accident. He sued the defendant (‘the Appellant’) in the tort of personal injury. The Appellant admitted partial liability and on the issue of damages made an offer to settle under O 22 A of the Rules of Court (Cap 322, R 5, 2006 Rev Ed) (‘the Offer to Settle’) for the sum of $500,000 excluding costs and disbursements.

The Offer to Settle remained open for acceptance when Maran passed away from his injuries. Two weeks later, even before letters of administration had been applied for or granted, his mother (‘the Respondent’) obtained an order of court for her to be made a party to the proceedings as the legal representative of Maran's estate under O 15 r 7 (2) of the Rules of Court (‘the substitution order’). A day later, the Respondent purported to accept the Offer to Settle. The Appellant said the Offer to Settle had been rendered incapable of acceptance upon Maran's death. The Respondent then obtained judgment in the Subordinate Courts (now re-named as ‘State Courts’) in terms of the Offer to Settle. The Appellant appealed to the High Court on the basis that Maran's death had so altered the nature of the claim as to constitute a fundamental change in circumstances. The High Court dismissed the appeal and this was the Appellant's further appeal.

Held, allowing the appeal:

(1) The action had been pursued as an estate's claim for damages under a cause of action that survived death under s 10 (1) of the Civil Law Act (Cap 43, 1999 Rev Ed). In such a case, only the properly appointed executor or administrator of the estate could act for the estate. The Respondent was not properly authorised to act for the estate when she obtained the substitution order because she had not been granted letters of administration. It followed that all subsequent acts taken on behalf of Maran's estate were nullities, including her purported acceptance of the Offer to Settle. The appeal therefore had to be allowed: at [14] , [19] and [21] .

(2) There was a string of English cases in which the deceased had passed away before the action was instituted on behalf of the estate. These cases held that plaintiffs who had not obtained grant of administration could not lawfully commence an action in the capacity of an administrator of the deceased's estate. This principle also applied to a case where a person purported to continue an action on behalf of an estate without first obtaining grant of administration. This was because the question in either case was the same: whether the person bringing or maintaining a claim had the capacity or standing to do so. In cases of intestacy, the court jealously guarded the assets of the deceased person's estate, including any cause of action that survived death, through the procedure by which letters of administration were granted. The underlying interest was the preservation of the assets of the estate and it should not matter even in certain cases where there was no obvious dispute as to whom was entitled to be the personal representative: at [30] to [32] .

(3) The correct procedure would have been for the Respondent to apply for a stay of proceedings pending the grant of letters of administration. The Respondent would not have been prejudiced because under O 15 r 9 (1) of the Rules of Court the action would not have been struck out unless due notice of such an application to strike out had been given to all interested persons: at [33] .

(4) The Respondent had not failed to provide full and frank disclosure of all material facts when applying for the substitution order, which thus could not be attacked on this basis: at [36] .

(5) The Respondent's lack of capacity could not be cured by the substitution order obtained under O 15 r 7 (2) of the Rules of Court. This was a procedural rule that did not confer a right to represent an estate where none existed. The rule had been created not to avoid delay but to enable the court to ensure the complete settlement of all questions arising in the action. As a matter of statutory interpretation, the words ‘that other person’ in this rule should be construed to refer to ‘some other person’ being the person to whom the interest or liability in the pending proceeding had been assigned, transmitted or devolved upon: at [39] , [40] , [46] , [49] and [50] .

(6) There was no meaningful analogy to be drawn between O 15 r 7 (2) and r 19.8 (1) of the English Civil Procedure Rules 1998 because these were quite simply different rules altogether with no common ancestry. Neither could the Respondent rely on O 15 r 15 (1) which should be read to mean that the court could order some person not a personal representative to represent the estate of a deceased person where that deceased person was not previously a party to the litigation: at [53] and [56] .

Chay Chong Hwa v Seah Mary [1983-1984] SLR (R) 505; [1984-1985] SLR 183 (refd)

Chern Chiow Yong v Cheng Chew Chin [1998] 1 SLR (R) 876; [1998] 2 SLR 615 (refd)

Finnegan v Cementation Co Ld [1953] 1 QB 688 (refd)

Government of Malaysia v Taib bin Abdul Rahman [1991] 2 MLJ 174 (not folld)

Hilton v Sutton Steam Laundry [1946] KB 65 (refd)

Ingall v Moran [1944] 1 KB 160 (refd)

Jeyaretnam Kenneth Andrew v AG [2013] 1 SLR 619 (refd)

Lee Han Tiong v Tay Yok Swee [1996] 2 SLR (R) 833; [1997] 1 SLR 289 (refd)

Millburn-Snell v Evans [2012] 1 WLR 41; [2011] EWCA Civ 577 (refd)

Sheagar s/o T M Veloo v Belfield International (Hong Kong) Ltd [2014] 3 SLR 524 (refd)

Tan Keaw Chong v Chua Tiong Guan [2009] SGHC 127 (not folld)

Wong Moy v Soo Ah Choy [1995] 3 SLR (R) 822; [1996] 1 SLR 586, HC (refd)

Wong Moy v Soo Ah Choy [1996] 3 SLR (R) 27; [1996] 3 SLR 398, CA (refd)

Civil Law Act (Cap 43, 1999 Rev Ed) ss 10, 10 (1) , 20

Probate and Administration Act (Cap 251, 2000 Rev Ed) ss 37 (1) , 37 (4)

Rules of Court (Cap 322, R 5, 2006 Rev Ed) O 15 r 7 (2) (consd) ;O 2 r 1, O 15 r 6 A, O 15 r 6 A (4) (a) , O 15 r 9 (1) , O 15 r 15 (1) , O 22 A

Civil Procedure Rules 1998 (SI 1998 No 3132) (UK) r 19.8 (1)

Fatal Accidents Act 1846 (c 93) (UK)

Fatal Accidents Act 1864 (c 95) (UK)

Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1934 (c 41) (UK) s 1

Supreme Court of Judicature Act 1875 (c 77) (UK) First Schedule OL (2)

M Ramasamy and N K Rajarh (M Rama Law Corporation) for the appellant

Ramesh Appoo and Susila Ganesan (Just Law LLC) for the respondent.

Chao Hick Tin JA

(delivering the grounds of decision of the court):


1 This appeal raised the question as to whether an offer to settle made by the appellant, the defendant in the action below (‘the Appellant’), under O 22 A of the Rules of Court (Cap 322, R 5, 2006 Rev Ed) was validly accepted and could be enforced. The cause of action arose from a motor accident in which the victim plaintiff (who had, since the institution of the action, passed away) suffered severe injuries. The Appellant admitted partial liability and on the issue of damages made an offer to settle (‘Offer to Settle’) in the sum of $500,000 (excluding costs and disbursements).

2 The action was pending and the Offer to Settle still remained open for acceptance when the victim passed away intestate. The victim's mother then purported, before applying for letters of administration, to accept the Offer to Settle on behalf of her son's estate. The question, which was the subject of the action and this appeal, was whether a settlement agreement (‘the Settlement Agreement’) had come into being upon acceptance by the mother of the victim. The High Court judge (‘the Judge’) answered the question in the positive (see Teo Gim Tiong v Krishnasamy Pushpavathi [2013] SGHC 178 (‘the Judgment’)). The Appellant appealed against the ruling of the Judge.

3 We first heard the appeal on 20 March 2014. On that occasion, we were troubled by the preliminary issue of whether the victim's mother had the standing to accept the Offer to Settle on behalf of the victim's estate, given that no letters of administration over the estate of the intestate victim had been granted or extracted. This point was not expressly taken before the Judge; neither was it expressly raised in the respective cases of the parties. As we felt that this issue was critical, we invited further written submissions from the parties on it. A second hearing of the appeal took place before us on 21 May 2014, at the end of which we allowed the appeal on the ground that the victim's mother had no title or capacity to accept the Offer to Settle before it was withdrawn. We now give our written grounds for the decision.

4 We should add that between the time that our decision was given and the issuing of these grounds one member of the coram took up appointment as the Attorney-General. Accordingly, these grounds of decision are signed by only two members of the coram. However we repeat what we said at the conclusion of the hearing on 21 May 2014, which is that all three of us on the coram were of the same view with regard to the disposition of the appeal.

Background to the dispute

5 On 22 July 2006, the victim, Maran s/o Kannakasabi (‘Maran’) was badly injured in a traffic accident...

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