The parties then entered a hearing over costs and disbursements.
Lawyers for defendants argued that they offered S$15,000 to Mr Chia to settle the case on Apr 24, 2020. He did not accept.
TTSH and the three doctors then asked for costs of action to be fixed at S$625,500 and disbursements at S$156,107.21.
After hearing submissions, Justice Choo found that lower costs were more appropriate and exercised his “discretion and order” to fix them at S$600,000 instead.
While Justice Choo noted that the S$156,107.21 in disbursements was “unusually high” for a trial that took eight full days and two half days, a large part of the amount went towards paying expert witnesses and the transport and accommodation of witnesses from overseas.
The fees for the defendants’ experts were reasonable, the judge said.
Three experts were paid sums ranging from S$21,400 to S$56,422.50, while transcription costs came to S$13,080.70.
Another S$6,178.74 was incurred for a witness who had to travel from Malaysia and stay in Singapore until she testified.
The defendants’ lawyers also argued that the court should consider Mr Chia’s conduct, including how a major amendment was made to the claim a week before the trial commenced.
“Affidavits of crucial witnesses were filed without leave. The trial had to be vacated and re-scheduled. The action itself was badly conceived,” said Justice Choo.
“However, all that cannot be blamed on the plaintiff who is only the administrator of the deceased’s estate as the action could only proceed on medical and legal advice.”
He added: “Costs are not meant to punish a failed civil action, but when a reasonable offer to settle was refused and the party refusing ended worse off than the terms offered, the other party should not have to bear the resulting costs that might have been saved.”
The judge also noted that in this case, an offer of mediation had been rebuffed.
“In such circumstances, the law allows the court, unless for strong reasons otherwise, to order indemnity costs. I am of the view that the defendants here ought to be compensated by indemnity costs.”
By doing so, the court is awarding more costs to the defendant that it generally would, after considering the circumstances of the case.
As an ending remark, the judge observed that the amount was “undoubtedly very high”.
“From the evidence I have seen at trial, the deceased does not seem to be a wealthy person. It may be that the defendants will not be able to recover the costs,” said Justice Choo.
“In that sense, they will not even be compensated by costs. Had the parties gone for mediation, a better idea of the merits of the case and the burden of costs may have been impressed upon them by the mediator, and we might have had a different outcome to this suit.”