Over eight years after a woman died in childbirth in September 2007, her family has obtained a ruling from the Court of Appeal on 6 April allowing them to pursue dependency claims from her obstetrician and from Thomson Medical. This is despite the fact that the legal suit was filed past the three-year statutory limitation period. The Civil Law act allow such actions to be taken only within a period of three years after the person’s death.
The late woman’s husband filed a negligence suit on behalf of himself, his eleven-year-old daughter and his nine-year-old son. The family seeks dependancy claims for loss of support, savings and inheritance. The amount sought was not disclosed by the man’s lawyer, Ms Kuah Boon Theng.
In September 2007, after being administered oxytocin to induce labour, the woman had died during childbirth due to acute amniotic fluid embolism, where amniotic fluid entered her bloodstream. Her baby was also affected and now has severe disabilities due to brain damage at birth. The mother and child were under the care of obstetrician Dr Koh Cheng Huat.
A month after her death, the woman’s husband requested for and obtained her medical report from Dr Koh. Five months later, he also obtained his wife’s medical records from Thomson Medical. Upon questioning in January 2011, Thomson Medical confirmed that the records given to the man were complete. However, a medical expert whom the man consulted said otherwise, observing that the cardiotocography (CTG) reading, which measures the foetal heartbeat and the mother’s labour contractions, was incomplete. The man’s lawyer stated that he was under the impression that complete records had been provided to him.
In 2012, the man was informed by an expert that the cause of his wife’s death may have been the inappropriate use of oxytocin, which may have caused her acute amniotic fluid embolism.
In January 2014, the man and this two children filed the negligence suit.
In June 2014, further CTG records that were previously omitted were provided by Thomson Medical to the man. Thomson Medical’s reason for the delay was that the documents were being held by the police for a period of time after the woman’s death.
Thomson Medical had initially succeeded in striking out the suit filed by the man in 2014, citing that the three-year statutory limitation period had passed. Again in September 2015, the man’s appeal was dismissed by the High Court.
However, the Court of Appeal ruled for the family to be allowed to pursue their claims due to the late disclosure of full medical reports by Thomson Medical. The man’s lawyer Ms Kuah stated that Dr Koh and Thomson Medical had fraudulently concealed negligent acts by withholding medical records.
The trial judge will still make the decision regarding whether the Dr Koh and Thomson Medical can be prevented from using the limitation defence. Ms Kuah argues that the defendants should be prevented by the court from doing so.
The Court of Appeal also acknowledged that the case presented was arguable as the delay of the medical records may have led to the late commencement of the suit.