Lawyer suspended 5 years for 'lackadaisical' conduct that caused client to lose case
As a result of his lawyer's "inaction and lackadaisical conduct", what should have been a court victory for a taxi driver who was injured in an accident turned into a complete defeat.
The lawyer, Mr Ooi Oon Tat, who was called to the Bar in 1989, had failed to provide certain documents requested by the opposing side, which ultimately resulted in his client's lawsuit being struck out.
On Friday (July 1), Mr Ooi was suspended for five years for his misconduct.
In suspending him, the Court of Three Judges, led by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, said this was a deplorable case of a lawyer who was in "grave dereliction of duty to his client".
The court said Mr Ooi effectively destroyed his client's cause of action by failing to act on his client's instructions and to provide the documents and failing to make good any of the loss suffered by his client.
The client, cabby Lim See Meng, had sued the driver of a vehicle that crashed into the rear of his taxi in 2012 for causing him to suffer chest discomfort and pain in the neck and ribs.
In November 2015, Mr Lim succeeded in obtaining an interlocutory judgment in which the defendant accepted full responsibility for the accident.
The quantum of damages were to be assessed at a later hearing.
In June 2016, the defendant, Mr Chong Chun Siong, sought certain documents from Mr Lim.
Mr Lim provided some documents to Mr Ooi and reminded him by e-mail to expedite the matter.
But Mr Ooi did not send out those documents to Mr Chong's lawyers, even after his counterparts obtained a court order for him to do so.
In January 2017, dissatisfied with how Mr Ooi was handling the suit, Mr Lim got another lawyer to take over the case.
He then found out that the suit had been struck out.
Mr Lim then sued Mr Ooi for professional negligence.
In September last year, Mr Ooi was found liable to Mr Lim for damages of nearly $73,000 and costs of $15,000. He has yet to pay up.
Mr Lim also lodged a complaint with the Law Society against Mr Ooi.
In December last year, a disciplinary tribunal found Mr Ooi guilty of three misconduct charges.
The tribunal said Mr Ooi's "inaction and lackadaisical conduct" brought dishonour to the profession.
On Friday, the Law Society, represented by Mr Adrian Wong, brought the case before the court, which has the power to suspend or disbar lawyers.
Mr Ooi pleaded with it to impose a fine instead.
The court said: "The suggestion that a fine might be an appropriate sanction in this case reflected an utter failure on the respondent's part to acknowledge the gravity of the misconduct on his part, and for that matter of the degree of harm he had caused his own client."
The court noted that Mr Ooi has an antecedent for having failed to deposit client monies into the appropriate account.