Teo Seng Kiat v Goh Hwa Teck

JurisdictionSingapore
JudgeG P Selvam J
Judgment Date30 September 2000
Neutral Citation[2000] SGHC 202
Docket NumberSuit No 2224 of 1998 (Registrar's
Date30 September 2000
Year2000
Published date19 September 2003
Plaintiff CounselFlorence Koh and Joshua Lim (Engelin Teh & Partners)
Citation[2000] SGHC 202
Defendant CounselRamasamy Chettiar (Harry Elias Partnership)
CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
Subject MatterMultiplier and multiplicand to be used,Appeal from Registrar to judge in chambers,Measure of damages,Damages,Assessment,Interlocutory judgment,Assessment of damages,Personal injuries cases,Pre-trial and future loss of earnings distinguished from loss of earning capacity,Probability of Malaysian working in Singapore indefinitely,Role of appellate judge

injuries - Interlocutory judgment - Assessment of Damages - Pre-trial and future loss of earnings - Loss of earning capacity - Multiplier and multiplicand to be used - Whether a Malaysian could work in Singapore indefinitely.

Facts

On 12 March 1998, the plaintiff was riding his motor-cycle along Sims Avenue. There was a collision between the motor-cycle and a motor van driven by the defendant. The plaintiff suffered injuries. He then issued a writ seeking damages. The defendant did not deny liability. Interlocutory judgment was entered by consent. Damages were then assessed by in the aggregate amount of $329,788. Out of that amount, the court below awarded $16,500.42 for pre-trial loss of earnings, $183,600 for loss of future earnings and $20,000 for loss of earning capacity. The defendant appealed.

Held

, varied the amount of damages for pre-trial and future loss of earnings to a global sum of $120,000 and no award for loss of earning capacity

(1) In this case, the loss of earnings was in respect of past and prospective earnings and there can be no additional claim for loss of earning capacity. The plaintiff in this case was working before the accident and returned to work after the accident and the loss of earnings was known and assessable. Accordingly, he was not entitled to additional general damages for handicap in the future as loss of earning capacity (see 9).

(2) In view of the medical evidence, there was sufficient objective basis to conclude that the plaintiff’s earning capacity, as in loss of future earnings, was indeed diminished. The evidence adduced, however, did not support a drastic loss of 60% as asserted by the plaintiff. He magnified it to maximize his claim for damages. The defendant’s counsel conceded that while the plaintiff suffered "a mild disability", it was not, however, so minimal to apply the de minimus doctine. The fair and reasonable loss was about 25% (see 11).

(3) As the plaintiff was only 28 years old, the court determined a multiplier of 18 years. This accorded with the current trend in relation to a healthy young man (see 12).

(4) It was contended that as the plaintiff was a Malaysian he could not work in Singapore indefinitely. In this regard, the court noted that the plaintiff was not an unskilled labourer confined to work at a construction site. He had acquired a specialised skill for which there would always be a need in Singapore. Additionally, his employer could not find an equally skilled replacement during his absence. The probabilities were that Singapore would hold out a job for him (see 13).

(5) Based on the objective income tax returns of the plaintiff, the court accepted the plaintiff's income as $2,100 per month. In keeping with an estimate of 25% loss of ability, the court decided on an estimated monthly loss of $500. That was the amount the court used in calculating his past and future loss of earnings after he returned to work. The court was of the view that that was the most reasonable basis in the special circumstances of this case. Based on 22 months of pre-assessment loss of earnings at $500 per month amounting to $11,000 and prospective loss of earnings at $500 per month x 18 years x 12 months amounting to $108,000, the court arrived at a total of $119,000. This figure was then rounded off to $120,000 (see 14-15).

Case(s) referred to

Chang

Ah Lek v Lim Ah Koon [1999] 1 SLR 82 (refd)
Davis v Powell Duffryn Associated Collieries Ltd [1942] AC 601 (refd)
Flint v Lovell, [1935] 1 KB 354 (refd)
Low Swee Tong v Liew Machinery (Pte) Ltd [1993] 3 SLR 89 (refd)
Moeliker v Reyrolle & Co Ltd [1977] 1 WLR 132 (refd)
Pritchard v Cobden [1987] 2 WLR 627 (refd)
Teo Sing Keng v Sim Ban Kiat [1994] 1 SLR 634 (refd)
Wee Sia Tian v Long Thik Boon [1996] 3 SLR 513 (folld)

Judgment

GROUNDS OF DECISION

The decision

1. On 12 March 1998, at about 5 pm the plaintiff was riding his motor-cycle along Sims Avenue. There was a collision between the motor-cycle and a motor van driven by the defendant. The plaintiff suffered injuries. He then issued a writ seeking damages. The defendant did not deny liability. Interlocutory judgment was entered by consent. Damages remained to be assessed by the Registrar.

2. Assessment of damages was done by Ms Tan Wen Shan AR. She awarded general damages in the aggregate amount of $329,788. The breakdown was as follows :

1. General damages $329,000.00

(a) fracture of clavicle $ 8,000.00

(b) fracture of scapula $ 6,000.00

(c) fracture of ribs $ 8,000.00

(d) reduced sense of smell $ 10,000.00

(e) scarring and abrasions $ 3,000.00

(f) head injuries $ 90,000.00

(g) loss of future earnings $183,600.00

(h) loss of earning capacity $ 20,000.00

(i) cost of future medical cares $ 1,188.00

3. Then there were special damages. They were as follows :

(a) Medical expenses (agreed) $ 7,113.91

(b) Pre-trial transport (agreed) $ 150.00

from 12 March 1998 to
6 August 1998 $ 8,771.78

from 7 August 1998 to
28 December 1999 $ 16,500.42

@ $15 per day from 7 August
1998 to 21 May 1999 $ 4,290.00

4. The defendant appealed against the decision of the Assistant Registrar. I varied the earnings part of the award of the Assistant Registrar as follows : 1(g), (h) and 2(d) to $120,000.00. I awarded a lump-sum to include the items.

5. The defendant has filed an appeal against the award of $120,000. I shall therefore elucidate this item.

The law

6. First, the legal principles. A finding on damages differs from an ordinary finding of fact in that it is generally much more a matter of speculation and estimate. This statement is true in respect of some cases than of others. Assessment of general damages, in cases like breach of contract for the sale of goods, for instance, is largely an objective exercise. Findings in such cases differ little from any other finding of fact. Assessment of damages for pain and suffering or wrongs such as slander are almost entirely matter of impression and of common sense. See Davis v Powell Duffryn Associated Collieries Ltd [1942] AC 601 at 624.

7. An appellate court is not justified in substituting a figure of its own for that awarded below because it would have awarded something different if it had tried the case. An appellate court will intervene only when the Judge, in assessing the damages, applied a wrong principle of law; or, short of this, the amount awarded is either so inordinately low or so inordinately high that it must be a wholly erroneous estimate of the damage. See Flint v Lovell, [1935] 1 KB 354, Davis v Powell. This rule, however, does not apply to an appeal from the Registrar to the Judge-in-Chambers. See Chang Ah Lek v Lim Ah Koon [1999] 1 SLR 82. It settled the law that an assessment of damages which comes on appeal to a Judge-in-Chambers is quite unlike an appeal from a trial judge to the Court of Appeal. The restrictions that bind the Court of Appeal do not limit function of the Judge. The Judge addresses the issues before him and assesses the damages de novo. He makes his own findings based, however, on the evidential material written and collected by the Registrar and the findings made by him. This is why the Court below is not required to give reasons for its decision; and the appellant is not required to state the grounds of appeal enumerating the errors of the Court below. Additionally points not canvassed before the Registrar may be presented before the Judge. Nonetheless, his decision must be judicial. Unlike the Registrar, the Judge must write his reasons if his decision is appealed. Even so, the Judge-in-Chambers ought not unnecessarily embark on an exercise of tinkering with the decision of the Court below with the view of fine tuning the decision. That would demolish the important function of the Court below.

Loss of earnings

8. In the case of non-fatal injury cases the injured is entitled to recover both past and prospective earnings. The date of trial or assessment provide the dividing line. This bifurcation is important because the multiplier is determined from the date of trial or assessment without any deduction for the time before the trial long though it might be. See Pritchard v Cobden [1987] 2 WLR 627. In that case Pritchard suffered brain damage in 1976. He became unable to work because of the injury. The assessment of damages was done at the trial in 1986. Swinton Thomas J took a multiplier of 14 from the date of trial and applied a multiplicand of 9,000 per annum. The total loss of earnings, past and prospective, amounted to 126,000. He rejected a submission that the multiplier should be reduced by the time elapsed since the accident. The Court of Appeal affirmed his decision. That decision settled the law that : damages for loss of earnings of a living plaintiff should continue to be assessed as special damages for the earnings lost between the date of the accident and the date of assessment. Calculation of the future loss of earnings is computed from the date of assessment by selecting an adequate multiplier for the multiplicand to compensate for the likely loss of earnings for the remainder of his working life.

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    • Singapore Academy of Law Annual Review No. 2003, December 2003
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