Liposuction Death: Doctors liable for S$5.3m in damages to Franklin Heng’s family

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The High Court has ordered the two doctors who botched a liposuction procedure on late property management firm boss Franklin Heng Ang Tee to pay S$5.32 million in damages.

For those who remember, YTL Starhill Global Reit Management boss Franklin Heng underwent liposuction treatment in Dec 2009 at Reves clinic which resulted in his death. The subsequent coroner’s enquiry found that too much sedative was given during the procedure to trim fat from the body. He suffocated to death after being given too much sedative, and the doctors had failed to properly monitor his condition.

Franklin Heng Liposuction death

Drs Wong Meng Hang and Zhu Xiu Chun had in 2012 admitted they were liable for Heng’s death.

The bulk of the sum is for the loss of inheritance of Heng’s children, for which Justice Choo Han Teck awarded S$3.88 million. In a judgment made public on Tuesday (May 26), he also awarded S$1.18 million for the support of Heng’s ex-wife Peggy Quek and the two children, who are now aged 18 and 16.

Rockwills Trustee, the administrators of Heng’s estate, had claimed more than S$12.9 million in damages. Dr Wong proposed damages of about S$1.57 million, while Dr Zhu proposed damages of about S$1.5 million. Some of the claims, such as for funeral expenses, were not disputed by the doctors.

Contacted on Tuesday, Dr Zhu’s lawyer Srinivasan Selvaraj said his client would be appealing against the decision, as she was “not agreeable” to some figures in the judgment. Dr Wong’s lawyers, Mr Melvin See and Mr Christopher Chong, as well as Rockwills Trustee’s lawyer, Ms Kuah Boon Theng, are reviewing the judgment.

Justice Choo awarded Rockwills S$190,513 for fees incurred for Heng’s coroner’s inquiry. Ms Kuah’s charges for the inquiry were clearly set out and the judge found they had been reasonably incurred.

But he did not allow Rockwills’ claim for losses and expenses incurred on three properties owned by Heng, which amounted to more than S$1.2 million. A purchase agreement for a Duchess Avenue property was rescinded after Heng’s death, and his estate had to forgo what had already been paid to the developer. This loss was not directly caused by Heng’s death, but by the estate being unable to service the loan and its subsequent decision to rescind the agreement, Justice Choo ruled.

Heng’s estate had also claimed S$1,200 a month to support his 94-year-old mother Tan Siak Cheng. But the judge found evidence lacking to show Heng had given money regularly to his mother, and awarded S$20,000 to pay for her medical expenses.

Heng’s children had wanted to claim for future tertiary education overseas, but Justice Choo said Rockwills has not been able to demonstrate Heng’s intention to support and fund their overseas tertiary education. Before his death, Heng had apparently paid S$9,000 monthly to support his ex-wife and children, and S$20,000 a year for additional expenses including school trips.

The judge also calculated that Heng would have amassed and left an estate of about S$7.4 million had the mishap not happened, and awarded his children S$3.88 million — 52.5 per cent of the estate, based on his last will — for loss of inheritance. Rockwills had claimed S$9.48 million for loss of inheritance, while the doctors had submitted sums of about S$525,000 and S$600,000.

Heng’s death was the first fatality here arising from liposuction. In June last year, Dr Wong was fined S$26,000 and Dr Zhu was fined S$8,000 for not complying with liposuction procedures, while Reves Clinic – which has since been renamed Yume Aesthetic & Medical Clinic – was fined S$60,000.

As a result of the deaths in liposuction cases, the Ministry of Health has come out with a set of guidelines where liposuction treatment can be done only in hospitals or clinics approved for day surgery. This new ruling is meant to tighten control of this procedure and improve patient safety and will result in 2 out of 3 clinic not being able to offer this procedure.

[Source: Channel News Asia, Image Credits: Straits Times]

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