Yeo Chee Siong v Salpac (S) Pte Ltd and another

JudgeDebbie Ong J
Judgment Date24 November 2017
Neutral Citation[2017] SGHC 304
CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
Docket NumberSuit No 1260 of 2014
Published date13 November 2018
Hearing Date26 April 2017,25 April 2017,02 May 2017,02 June 2017,28 April 2017,28 August 2017
Plaintiff CounselFendrick Koh (Tan Chin Hoe & Co)
Defendant CounselRamasamy s/o Karuppan Chettiar and Wee Qianliang (Central Chambers Law Corporation)
Subject MatterDamages,Assessment,Personal injuries
Citation[2017] SGHC 304
Debbie Ong J: Introduction

Mr Yeo Chee Siong (“the Plaintiff”) was previously employed by the first defendant to do carpentry work. He was a long time employee and had been working for the first defendant since 2 December 1996. On the morning of 29 December 2012, the Plaintiff boarded the rear of a lorry owned by the first defendant (“the Vehicle”) to go to work. This was the usual transportation arrangement provided by the first defendant. That morning, the Vehicle which was driven by Chew Kong Seng (“Mr Chew”) collided into the rear of a bus (“the Accident”). The Accident caused serious injuries to the Plaintiff. Mr Chew passed away as a result of the accident. The administrator of Mr Chew’s estate is the second defendant.

On 11 December 2015, an interlocutory judgment was entered against the second defendant by consent, on the basis that Mr Chew was liable to the Plaintiff for a breach of duty which caused the accident. The parties agreed that damages should be assessed by the court. The claim against the first defendant was withdrawn.

I presided over the trial on the assessment of damages and awarded the Plaintiff damages totalling $576,626. A summary in tabular form setting out the quantum of damages awarded for each item of damages is attached in Annex A. The second defendant (“the Defendant”) has appealed against my decision. I now give the grounds of my decision.

Undisputed items of damages

I begin with the undisputed items of damages. The plaintiff and the Defendant reached an agreement on the following items of damages at the commencement of the trial: Pre-trial loss of earnings at $62,000; Medical expenses at $8,826.25; Nursing home expenses at $25,000; and Transport expenses at $1,000. I awarded the Plaintiff the agreed quantum for the heads of damages listed at Annex A with the exception of medical expenses being rounded down to $8,826.00. This came to a total of $96,826.00.

Disputed items of damages Pain and suffering including loss of amenities

The Plaintiff claimed a total sum of $326,000 for pain and suffering including loss of amenities. The Plaintiff claimed in respect of the following injuries: Severe head injuries including injuries to the brain, skull, face and right eye; Fractured right ribs with bilateral lung contusions; Fractured C5 vertebrae; Multiple fractures of the left ulna and radius; Left femur fracture; Left tibia fractures; Right lumbar transverse processes fractures; Right acetabulum fracture; Loss of sense of taste and smell; and Surgical scars.

As the injuries sustained were related to different parts of the bodies, I adopted the component approach and awarded separate amounts for each head of damage before totalling them (see Seah Yit Chen v Singapore Bus Service (1978) Ltd and others [1990] 1 SLR(R) 490 at [5]).

Severe head injuries

It is undisputed that the Plaintiff suffered severe head injuries as a result of the Accident. These include severe brain injury, extensive skull fractures, facial injuries and trauma injury to his right eye. In the Joint Opening Statement, the Plaintiff asked for a total sum of $212,000 for the severe head injuries suffered, comprising $160,000 for the “moderately severe brain damage”, $45,000 for the physical facial fractures and $7,000 for the eye injuries. However, in his Closing Submissions, the Plaintiff appeared to categorise the injuries slightly different and asked for a total sum of $240,000 comprising $140,000 for the brain injuries and $100,000 for the skull fractures, facial and eye injuries. The Defendant submitted that the sum of $52,000 would be adequate, with $50,000 to compensate for the skull fractures and brain injuries and an additional sum of $2,000 for the trauma injury to the eye.

After considering the medical opinion and evidence before me, I awarded $130,000 for the brain injuries, $40,000 for the skull fractures and $30,000 for the facial and eye injuries.

Brain injuries

In their submissions, counsel for both the Plaintiff and the Defendant referred to the Guidelines for the Assessment of General Damages in Personal Injury Cases (Academy Publishing, 2010) (“the GAGD”) but arrived at different conclusions. For the category of “Brain Injuries”, the Glasgow Coma Score (“GCS”) scale was used as a point of reference to determine the severity of the injury. A GCS scale of 8 and below was classified as “Very severe brain damage” with a recommended quantum of $160,000–$250,000 in damages while a GCS scale of between 8 to 10 was classified as “Moderately severe brain damage” with a recommended quantum of damages between $120,000 and $160,000. The “Very severe brain damage” category included those who “suffer from severe physical limitations with very limited ability to interact with his environment meaningfully”. Some examples of this limited interaction ability included having “little or incomprehensible language function” and “urinary and faecal incontinence”.

The severity of brain injury sustained by the Plaintiff was disputed during the trial. The Plaintiff’s experts, Ms Desiree Choo (“Ms Choo”) and Dr Simon Lowes Collinson (“Dr Collinson”), stated that the Plaintiff suffered a severe level brain injury from the Accident. They noted that the Plaintiff had a GCS scale of 14 when he was admitted to the Accident and Emergency Department (“A&E”) immediately after the accident but subsequently developed seizures with his GCS scale dropping to 4. The Plaintiff has since made good recovery from this severe injury and having considered the evidence before me relating to his ability to live independently, I am of the opinion that the GCS scale of 4 is no longer representative of the Plaintiff current mental condition.

The above finding does not mean that the Plaintiff had made full recovery. This finding is supported by the medical opinion of the experts of both the Plaintiff and the Defendant. Ms Choo and Dr Collinson observed that the Plaintiff sustained significant cognitive deficits as a consequence of the Accident, including, inter alia, a significant decrease from his premorbid nonverbal/performance IQ to his current nonverbal/performance IQ, an amnestic disorder, higher order or executive function cognitive deficits and personality or behavioural changes. The Defendant’s expert, Dr Chang Wei Chun (“Dr Chang”), observed in his report that the Plaintiff has since recovered with “some cognitive deficit”. The Defendant had another expert, Dr Ho King Hee (“Dr Ho”), who noted in his report that a neuropsychological testing conducted in July 2013 revealed abnormal results consistent with the nature of the brain injuries the Plaintiff sustained. Dr Ho opined that “[g]iven the severity of the frontal lobe involvement, it is also extremely likely that [the Plaintiff’s] observed mood changes and disinhibited behaviour are due to frontal lobe syndrome from the accident”. He also suggested that since more than three years had elapsed from the accident at the time of his report (dated 16 February 2016), it is likely that “no further improvement will occur” in the Plaintiff’s mental state in the future.

Given the medical opinion and observations, I am satisfied that the brain injuries suffered by the Plaintiff fall within the “Moderately severe brain damage” category. The Plaintiff suffered a significant change in his intellect and personality after sustaining the injuries, matching the description in the GAGD. I also accepted the evidence of the Plaintiff’s nephew, Mr Bernard Shen (“Bernard”), that the Plaintiff became “easily agitated and uncooperative” while going about his daily activities after the Accident. Bernard also described two episodes where the Plaintiff displayed behavioural problems such as unzipping and dropping his trousers in public or at private family gatherings. These had never happened before the Accident. I also considered the evidence in relation to the Plaintiff’s lack of personal hygiene and poor impulse control following the Accident. Taking into account these factors, I was satisfied that the sum of $130,000 would be appropriate for the brain injuries sustained. This was within the range recommended in the GAGD.

Skull injuries

Turning to the skull injuries sustained, I note that the Plaintiff was observed by Dr John Chua (“Dr Chua”) to have obvious head injuries that were described as “[b]oggy open wound over frontal region of the head” when admitted to hospital after the Accident. Dr Chua managed the Plaintiff on admission and diagnosed him with a fractured skull base with intracranial haemorrhage. In the report dated 30 July 2013, Ms Choo and Dr Collinson stated that:

A CT scan performed on admission reflected extensive facial and skull vault fractures, basi-frontal contusional haemorrhage with extra-axial blood and pneumocephalus predominantly over the left cerebrum. Inra-op findings include depressed frontal bone at midline, comminuted fracture of left orbital bar and roof, multiple dura tears adjacent to cribriform plate, dura tear over left frontal region, and brain soft and sunken upon elevation of depressed skull. [emphasis added]

The severity of the Plaintiff’s injuries necessitated an emergency procedure whereby doctors performed a “[c]raniotomy elevation of [his] depressed skull, dura repair, cranialisation of [the] frontal sinus [and an] insertion of right frontal [intracranial pressure].

According to the GAGD, a sum of $50,000 to $75,000 would be appropriate to compensate for severe fractures of the skull. This would include compound fractures of the skull with skull fragments lacerating the brain resulting in serious brain injury. It would also include haematomas following the fracture of the skull which results in severe brain injury. Moderate skull fractures were described as injuries less severe than that of severe skull fracture but which still necessitated extensive surgery with a long...

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5 cases
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    ...was a risk that he could still lose his current post-accident job as a cleaner (see Yeo Chee Siong v Salpac (S) Pte Ltd and another [2017] SGHC 304 at [37]-[42]). On appeal, the defendant’s sole argument against the LEC award was that the plaintiff had failed to show that he was at risk of ......
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    ...was in line with “the rough and ready approach for calculating LEC in the round” (at [54]). 3 Yeo Chee Siong v Salpac (S) Pte Ltd & Anor [2017] SGHC 304 Carpenter (at [1]) The claimant suffered restricted motion in his left elbow and wrist, to walk with a limp (because his left leg was shor......
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    ...(CA) has received somewhat lukewarm reception at the High Court as well. Though cited in Yeo Chee Siong v Salpac (S) Pte Ltd and another [2017] SGHC 304 ((“Yeo Chee Siong”) at [33]), its M&M approach was ultimately ignored in favour of Michael Clark’s R&R approach when the LEC award was qua......
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    • 5 Noviembre 2018
    ...damages in the total sum of $576,626, and the reasons for her decision are set out in Yeo Chee Siong v Salpac (S) Pte Ltd and another [2017] SGHC 304 (“the GD”). The Judge arrived at the total sum by using the “component” method for assessing damages, by which she first awarded separate amo......
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