Products sometimes cause personal injury to users. The question that arises for a court, when it is shown that the manufacturer, producer or seller of the product was at fault, is how compensation, if not reparation, is to be made for such personal injury.

No amount of monetary compensation can truly make up for personal injury, particularly where an organ or a limb is lost. Nevertheless, courts in Singapore have upheld the principle that compensation awarded to a victim must be "fair, reasonable and just". These concepts are referred to because the law needs to strike a balance between the interests of the individual and the overall interest of society in deciding on the appropriate amount of compensation to award to the victim.

In the recent case of Tan Hun Hoe v Harte Denis Mathew [2001] 4 SLR 317 the Singapore Court of Appeal was invited to follow the approaches adopted by the courts in Hong Kong and England of making a general upward revision of all awards to reflect the current improved social and economic conditions in the country. The court declined, indicating that the court was not presented with the essential data to help it to come to an informed conclusion. The court did not think that the gravity of the socio-economic implications made the case an appropriate occasion to undertake a general review of the tariff (ie, standards of compensation) for personal injuries.

However, the court did point out that a perusal of some of the awards made by the Singapore courts over the years indicate that awards for the same injury have risen. In the Harte Case itself the quantum of damages awarded by the High Court was increased on appeal.

It appears from the Harte Case that the Singapore Court of Appeal may be ready, in an appropriate case and with appropriate information and data, to review the standards of compensation for personal injury. This doe not necessarily mean that any review by the Singapore Court of Appeal will result in the 'tariff' being increased in a manner similar to Hong Kong and England, or at all. The fact that the Singapore courts have, over time, awarded compensation for personal injuries in increasing sums may indicate that no upward revision is necessary (because the upward revision has already been made over time), as much as it may indicate that an upward revision should be made (to establish formally the increased standard of compensation).

Seen from the socio-economic perspective, the question is whether the compensation that a court awards is appropriate compensation when compared to the cost of living in that country. Seen from the jurisprudential perspective, the court's search is for an amount that the claimant, the respondent and society in general will accept as being "fair, reasonable and just".

For further information on this topic please contact Lawrence Teh at Rodyk & Davidson by telephone (+65 225 2626) or by fax (+65 225 1838) or by email ([email protected]).