KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 6 — The parents of a patient killed in a 2016 fire at Sultanah Aminah Johor Bahru Hospital (HSA) in Johor have settled their lawsuit against the government.
According to the consent judgment recorded on August 12 last year, the defendants of the case — the HSA director, the Johor state health director, and the government — agreed to pay Chanthiran Palanisamy and Rajaswari Ramalingam — the father and mother of the late Neeramaladevi Chandran — RM136,000 in general and special damages, including interest, as a complete and final resolution of the plaintiffs’ claims, without admission of liability.
The matter was heard before Johor Baru Sessions Court judge Salawati Djambari, who also ordered the defendants to pay the plaintiffs’ counsel RM14,000 in costs.
In their civil lawsuit filed on October 24, 2019, Neeramaladevi’s parents alleged negligence of patient safety in the fire that broke out at the south intensive care unit (ICU) of HSA on October 25, 2016, killing their daughter aged 24 then and five other patients.
They accused the HSA director, Johor state health director, and the government of failure to ensure the care and safety of patients; of failing to ensure maintenance and to repair all facilities, electrical wiring and electrical equipment in the building; as well as failure to supervise workers and staff, especially those responsible for maintenance of the safety of the Ministry of Health (MOH) hospital.
G. Visvanathan Nair, senior partner at law firm Maniam Nair & Co that represented Neeramaladevi’s parents, told CodeBlue yesterday that the government has already paid his clients.
“The matter has been settled, the consent judgment recorded, and the money already paid to them. The file is closed,” he said. “These people were lucky to come and see me, two or three days before the time expired.”
According to the Public Authorities Protection Act 1948, private citizens can only file a lawsuit against a public authority within three years of the alleged act of neglect. However, the government has six years to sue private citizens for damages.
The family of four victims killed in the 2016 HSA fire disaster, including Neeramaladevi’s parents, have sued the government. The other three lawsuits were filed in September 2020 at the High Court in Johor Baru by the parents of three patients killed in the disaster: Logeswaran Krishnasamy (aged 20 then); Choo Lin Fong (aged 37 then); and Kaliama Muniandy (aged 22 then).
High Court judge See Mee Chun ordered last December 14 that the three cases related to Logeswaran, Choo, and Kaliama be heard together. Their cases are scheduled for hearing on November 3.
The other two patients who died in the 2016 fire at HSA, whose family did not file a suit against the government, were Toh Ah Wah, 60 and Yusuf Hasan, 53.
Yesterday, Deputy Health Minister Aaron Ago Dagang told the special chambers in the Dewan Rakyat that the cases over the HSA fire were still pending in court, citing it as a reason for MOH not publishing the findings of an independent inquiry into the disaster that occurred five years ago.
The independent committee headed by former Court of Appeal judge Mohd Hishamudin Yunus — which submitted its report on the fatal 2016 HSA fire to the then-Pakatan Harapan administration in June 2018 — concluded that one of the underlying causes that led to the deaths of six patients was the lack of preparedness by the hospital management and staff.
Based on the independent committee’s report sighted by CodeBlue, the inquiry found that HSA operated illegally for more than a decade after unsuccessfully applying for a fire certificate in 2002. The committee also stated that none of the south ICU staff then had undergone training in fire drills or emergency evacuation, despite four previous fire outbreaks in the ward in 2008, 2010, and May and October 14, 2016 before the October 25 blaze.
Aaron told Parliament yesterday that 76 public hospitals, clinics, and institutes required fire certificates, but did not specify if HSA still had not received the fire certificate, saying simply that 44 of the 76 health care facilities were in the process of applying for the certification from the Fire and Rescue Department.
After the deadly 2016 blaze, another fire broke out at HSA on June 28 last year, but did not result in casualties. The Fire and Rescue Department told CodeBlue on June 30 last year that the public hospital still did not have a fire certificate, saying the facility needed funding.