High Court awards widow S$1.2 mln in compensation against doctor, medical lab

Failed to detect cancer of husband

medical negligence
Medical negligence Reuters & Pixabay

A 52-year-old widow has received more than S$1.2 million after she sued a medical laboratory and its medical director for medical negligence, as they failed to detect cancer in a skin sample of her husband.

The woman, Carol Ann Armstrong, has claimed that Quest Laboratories and Dr Tan Hong Wui failed to spot cancer when they took the skin sample from her husband Peter Traynor in 2009. Traynor, who was of Canadian-origin, worked as information technology specialist in Singapore. In 2013 he died at the age of 47 due to skin cancer and left his two children aged between 10 and 12 behind.

In 2009 the diseased developed an ulcerous skin lesion on his back. During the medical process, a skin sample was taken by the lab for a pathology examination but the report stated that there was no malignancy.

When in January 2012, Traynor found a swelling under his armpit, he went to visit oncologist Ang Peng Tiam, who again analysed 2009 specimen. Later he found that there was a malignant tumour.

The New Paper reported that during the court hearing on Wednesday, March 21, Justice Choo Han Teck said, "Dr Tan was negligent in law in sending a report indicating a clean bill of health when the circumstances required, at the very least, further examination on his part."

Dr Tan also studied a deeper section of the same skin sample but on February 13, 2012, he reported that it was suggestive of a melanoma.

Justice Choo said that they must not judge the doctor, "for an error in interruption for it is in the nature of interpretations to invite company and diversity; some may agree with the same interpretation that others will vehemently reject."

In addition to that the judge mentioned if in 2009 Dr Tan studied the deeper section of the specimen, he would have stated suggestive of melanoma, as he did in the second report.

Kang Yixian, the lawyer of the accused argued during the hearing and said that even if he had been negligent, the first report provided by him did not cause the death of Traynor at that time. She told the court that based on the medical evidence from Professor John Chia, it is clear that his cancer was already spread through his body.

But defence counsel including Edmund Kronenburg, Benavon Lee and Christopher Goh, three lawyers of Armstrong, questioned these claims. They also brought medical expert oncologist William McCarthy, who testified that until after 2009, the disease had not spread beyond armpits. The testimony included the fact that a surgical removal of the affected lymph could have saved the life of Armstrong's husband.

The High Court judge Choo accepted the assessment by Professor McCarthy and found that due to the medical negligence Traynor had to lose a fight against cancer and probably "caused him to die years earlier."

There are so many cases of medical negligence in the past years. A Singaporean woman, Alicia Medanin Khan became a victim of such cases, when she came to India for liposuction surgery but died in a hospital located in the southern state of Tamil Nadu's Chennai city, after the operation.

In December 2017, another victim from California sued two organ donor networks, including a hospital where the operation took place and a cancerous pancreas was implanted in her body.

Even in March 2018, a Kenyan surgeon performed a brain operation to remove a blood clot on a wrong patient though it did not cause any harm to the patient.

This article was first published on March 23, 2018