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Representative actions in Singapore

The limitation periods, or deadlines for commencing a Court action in Singapore, are prescribed by the Limitation Act. The effect of these deadlines is that should one fail to commence action by the limitation period, the legal action may be time-barred and the potential claimant would lose his right to claim for compensation.

The issue of limitation periods is especially pertinent in medical negligence actions, as the effects of medical malpractice (such as misdiagnosis, mistreatment or surgical misjudgment) often remain latent or are only undiscovered until several years later. In such instances, will the limitation period preclude a patient claimant from suing his/her medical practitioner in Court?

3 - Years At Starting Point

Some readers may be familiar with the large class action lawsuits that are relatively common in the United States. For example, in 2020, a class action lawsuit was commenced against McDonald’s on behalf of a class of female employees in respect of allegations of sexual harassment. Typically, in a class action lawsuit, one or a few parties represent a group of people who have a similar interest in the litigation (known as a “class”). If the representatives succeed in proving their case, then the individual claimants within the class succeed.

In Singapore, this type of action is known as a representative action and the claimants must have the same interest in the proceedings. In Singapore, representative actions are rare. Singapore is generally considered a non-litigious society, and that in order for proceedings to be mounted in this way, the persons having the same cause in the proceedings must be numerous (with a few exceptions). However, despite its rarity, the benefits of such an action are real and very tangible.

Some of the benefits explored in a Canadian case (Western Canadian Shopping Centres Inc v Dutton) include: cost savings for claimants and defendants and the prevention of moral hazard where the wrongdoers who caused widespread but individually minimal harm might not otherwise take into account the full costs of their conduct.

One possible case where a representative action could possibly be brought would be in respect of Khoo Teck Puat Hospital’s misdiagnosis of breast diagnosis types.

The misdiagnosis surrounded Human Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor 2 (“HER2”) tests conducted by the immunohistochemistry laboratory at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (“KTPH”). KTPH estimated that about 180 breast cancer patients may have been erroneously diagnosed with the more aggressive form of breast cancer, and that about half had received unnecessary treatment, including Herceptin (Trastuzumab). The drug is said to commonly result in side effects including diarrhoea, chills and fever. Less common side effects include heart problems.

The affected breast cancer patients may opt to commence an action against Khoo Teck Puat for negligence. In essence, the argument would be that the hospital had breached their duty of care by failing to accurately diagnose their conditions. Arguably, this is a case that would be well suited to a representative action, given that the argument would be common across all the claimants.

If you have reason to believe that you may have been misdiagnosed, or have received the wrong treatment, you should seek legal advice immediately so that you will be able to make an informed decision on your next course of action. You may wish to contact us at 6553 4800 to find out more or to arrange to meet with one of our lawyers.

https://www.ktph.com.sg/aboutus/Documents/press-release/Media%20Statement%20-%20HER2%20tests%20incident%20at%20Khoo%20Teck%20Puat%20Hospital%20Laboratory.pdf
https://www.straitstimes.com/world/united-states/mcdonalds-faces-class-action-lawsuit-over-pervasive-sexual-harassment
Koh Chong Chiah and others v Treasure Resort Pte Ltd [2013] 4 SLR 1204
Western Canadian Shopping Centres Inc v Dutton [2001] 2 SCR 534

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