In Background to Landmark Case Explained the Chubb Case was outlined and the commercial aspects of the case discussed. This update considers one of the decisions made by the judge in the Chubb Case and examines the requirements and restrictions operating on a claimant who is able to sue a defendant for breach of contract and for tort arising out of the same facts.
The facts of the Chubb Case have been set out in Background to Landmark Case Explained. When the homeowners sued Chubb Singapore (C-S), they sued C-S for breach of contract and in negligence. In the course of hearing the case the judge had to consider the issue of whether the homeowners could sue C-S in negligence in addition to suing C-S for breach of contract in providing a defective security system.
The judge ruled that the inclusion of a claim in negligence was not sensible. The judge reasoned that although it is permissible under Singapore law for a claimant to sue a defendant in tort while simultaneously suing that defendant for breach of contract arising out of the same facts, it was not appropriate for the homeowners to do so in the Chubb Case because the duties of C-S under the law of contract were in any event more onerous than those under the law of negligence. The homeowners' claim in negligence afforded no advantage to the claimant. Hence, the judge ruled that the homeowners' claim in negligence would be sidestepped because it was tantamount to "painting the lily, throwing perfume on the violet or adding another hue to the rainbow - an utterly wasteful exercise". The judge decided that he would focus on the homeowners' claim for breach of contract.
This case should remind product liability lawyers always to bear in mind the established rule under Singapore law that where parties are clearly involved in a contractual and commercial relationship, the court will be reluctant to entertain a claim or suit alleging negligence which arises out of the same facts, particularly where commencement of a suit in negligence affords no advantage to the claimant (Tai Hing Cotton Mill Ltd v Liu Chong Hing Bank Ltd  AC 80).
It also reiterates that the right of a party to frame and assert the type of suit most advantageous to him or her is subject to the principle that a concurrent or alternative liability in tort will not be admitted if its effect would be to permit the claimant to circumvent or escape a contractual exclusion or limitation of liability for the act or omission that would constitute the tort (Henderson v Merrett Syndicates Ltd  3 WLR 761).
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 e-mail ([email protected]).
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