Liposuction death: Apex court cuts award to family from $5.6m to $3.7m

SINGAPORE – The Court of Appeal has cut the damages awarded to the family of a 44-year-old woman who died from a botched liposuction procedure from $5.6 million to $3.7 million.

In November last year, the High Court found that surgeon Edward Foo Chee Boon, who performed the procedure at his clinic in 2013, had been negligent and ordered him to pay $5.6 million to the family of pharmaceutical executive Mandy Yeong Soek Mun.

On Tuesday (Sept 28), the apex court ruled that a sum of about $703,000 in mortgage payments for a property owned by Madam Yeong and her husband, Mr Seto Wei Meng, should not have been awarded for his dependency claim.

This was because the mortgage payments represent the use of Madam Yeong’s income to acquire the property – which Mr Seto will own at the end of the day.

“There would thus be an element of double counting in this case,” said the court, which comprised Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon and Justices Andrew Phang and Quentin Loh.

The court also reduced the award for the family’s claim for loss of inheritance by about $1.2 million.

The High Court had awarded the family $3.2 million in projected income and another $556,500 in stock options.

But the apex court revised Madam Yeong’s projected income to $2.6 million as the calculations should be done based on her post-tax, rather than pre-tax, income.

The court also set aside the award for the stock options as there was no evidence on how these were to be issued and how they would be valued.

Madam Yeong was head of regional market development at Roche Diagnostics Asia Pacific.

On June 28, 2013, she underwent a procedure to remove fat from her abdominal flanks, followed by a transfer of fat to her thighs.

She developed complications at the clinic and was taken to hospital, where she died from pulmonary fat embolism, in which blood flow is blocked by fat particles.

On Tuesday, the apex court said Dr Foo had breached his duty of care to Madam Yeong when he did not recognise the symptoms of fat embolism and wasted time by not calling for an ambulance earlier.

The court dismissed his appeal on liability and ordered him to pay $80,000 – which has been paid into court as security – in legal costs to Madam Yeong’s family.

Dr Foo, who currently does not hold a practising certificate, was declared bankrupt in April.

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Madam Yeong’s family had applied to make him a bankrupt after he failed to comply with a court order to make partial payment while his appeal was pending.

This means Dr Foo’s affairs are being managed by the Official Assignee, a public servant who investigates the conduct and affairs of bankrupts and recovers their assets for distribution to creditors.

Mr Seto’s lawyer, Senior Counsel Kuah Boon Theng, told The Straits Times: “We were informed some time after the legal proceedings were commenced that Dr Foo’s professional indemnity providers had withdrawn their coverage and Dr Foo was effectively uninsured. The reasons for this decision were never provided to the plaintiff.”

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