Heart-hole hearing ends in stand-off

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 September, 2011, 12:00am


The hearing of a claim by a student who suffered a hole in the heart when he was born as a result of a doctor's mistake ended yesterday with the government still offering just a fraction of what he is seeking.

The hearing heard lawyers for Fung Chun-man reduce their claim from HK$5.6 million to HK$4 million, but the government raised its offer from HK$150,000 to HK$400,000, still just a 10th of what Fung is seeking.

Fung, now 21, is suing the government for his suffering, loss of future income and medical expenses arising from the mistake by Dr Rita Sung Yn-tz in 1990 that was not discovered until he was 12 and left him with the physical condition of a 50-year-old.

He initially was asking for up to HK$8 million.

Fung's father was furious when he heard the family's lawyers had reduced the claim and stormed out of the court, causing the hearing to be adjourned for more than an hour for discussions with the lawyers.

At one point, barrister Neil Clough told the court he was not sure he could still represent the family but the problem was later resolved.

Mr Justice Mohan Bharwaney reserved his judgment after hearing final submissions from the lawyers.

An expert report said Fung's life expectancy would not be affected by the surgery but he might be at greater risk of suffering a heart attack.

The claim included HK$850,000 for pain, suffering and loss of amenities. Fung also claims loss of income and medical expenses.

Asking for what he called appropriate compensation, Clough said: 'It is self-evident that a heart with a hole cannot circulate blood as well as a complete heart. Like a reconditioned engine, a reconditioned heart is not as good.'

Clough said no amount of money could provide true restitution for Fung, who had had to attend clinics and doctors for the rest of his life.

The government has admitted that Sung, then a paediatric cardiologist at Prince of Wales Hospital, had made a substandard diagnosis through negligence but disputed the amount of compensation.

The court heard that within days of Fung's birth, he had a 9mm hole created in his heart to treat what was erroneously diagnosed as a congenital condition. His parents were told the hole would close naturally. Despite regular check-ups, a 3cm hole was discovered when Fung was 12. Surgeons closed the hole in 2003.

Fung had told the court he continued to suffer from chest pain, dizziness and shortness of breath after the corrective operation.