[Editor’s Note: Article has been updated on 2 February 2021 to reflect the outcome of interior design firm Fineline’s defamation suit between Koh Shou Wen and Erin Chua.]
It is oftentimes the responsibility of businesses to ensure that customers are treated with care, and a misalignment in expectations of both parties might escalate into a lawsuit.
On the flip side, there have also been instances of firms suing their customers instead.
Here are some high-profile lawsuits between companies and customers that happened in recent years.
1. Interior Design Firm Tried To Sue A Couple For Bad Reviews
Interior design firm Fineline attempted to sue a married couple over allegedly defamatory remarks made against it in online reviews.
Koh Shou Wen and Erin Chua had engaged Fineline Unique in 2017 to carry out renovation work at their new condominium.
They later “complained about delays and defects in the work”, and voiced their opinions on Google Reviews and Hometrust.
Reviews included phrases such as “Worst ID (interior designer) experience. Do not be fooled by their honeyed sweet-worded sales tactics”.
The firm took legal action against the couple, claiming they had been wrongly accused of being “unreliable, negligent, unprofessional and wholly incompetent” and had suffered losses.
It was previously reported that the Fineline grouphad failed in its attempt to sue the couple over allegedly defamatory remarks made against it.
However, as of 14 December 2020, the court ruled that the online statements in question as published by the couple were indeed defamatory of the firm and the couple was therefore liable for defamation.
Furthermore, the counterclaim filed by the couple against the company was entirely dismissed, and the couple had to pay costs to the firm, including costs for the trial and for the High Court appeal.
2. UOB Sued By Retiree For S$1.15M In Losses
In August this year, a 72-year-old retiree sued United Overseas Bank (UOB) and a former relationship manager at the bank after suffering losses totalling $1.15 million.
The retiree Tan Swan Choo, said that she was deceived by Keigo Lam Yew Kai from UOB into believing she had put her money into UOB-authorised investment vehicles.
In actual fact, they were unsecured loans to Broadwell, a company incorporated in the British Virgin Islands.
Swan Choo and Keigo met in January 2018, when they were introduced by the former’s son — who was also present at the meeting.
In her statement of claim, Swan Choo said that Keigo introduced the investment opportunity to her when her sons had stepped away to replenish their food at the buffet.
She also believed that he was advising her in his capacity as an employee of UOB since he had given her his name card.
Keigo was assistant vice-president of UOB’s Privilege Banking team when he met Swan Choo in 2018.
She ended up investing close to S$1.75 million in three trenches.
After around two years, the promised interest payments of 5.4 per cent and 5.1 per cent per annum on the investments ceased, and Keigo stopped responding.
This January, Swan Choo met Jeffrey Beh, executive director of UOB’s legal department, at UOB Privilege Banking Centre. She claimed that Jeffrey told her the investments were completely unrelated to UOB.
UOB said that it had not assigned Keigo to be Swan Choo’s relationship manager nor consultant. The lawsuit is still ongoing.
3. Credit Suisse Sued For At Least S$415.6M
Bidzina Ivanishvili, the biggest victim of a rogue trader at Credit Suisse Group, sued one of the bank’s trusts in Singapore for at least S$415.6 million.
Credit Suisse’s former wealth manager Patrice Lescaudron had forged signatures and faked trades to cover mounting losses of clients, including Bidzina.
Patrice has since been convicted in Geneva, and Credit Suisse had sought to limit court battles over him.
However, Bidzina, a Georgian billionaire, won the right to sue in Singapore, and the lawsuit focuses on the Singapore trust rather than the Swiss bank.
He is currently being represented in the Singapore lawsuit by Drew & Napier.
4. Chinese-Australian Businessman Sued By MBS
China-born Wang Zhi Cai, 65, had amassed a debt of S$8.1 million at the Marina Bay Sands (MBS) casino in 2014.
He then became uncontactable by MBS, as he had given a false address in his credit application at the casino.
MBS had obtained a judgment against Zhi Cai in the Singapore High Court and registered the judgment with the Australian court in September 2017.
However, MBS failed to serve the court notice personally to Zhi Cai personally, at his registered address or office. Attempts to call him on given China and Australia phone numbers also failed.
After he failed to turn up in court, MBS obtained a S$10 million default judgment against him.
According to The Straits Times, it was only in 2019 did he know about the judgement, and filed his defence in court.
5. The Pines Club Sued By At Least 145 Members
About 145 members of The Pines Club are suing Peter Kwee and his company Exklusiv Resorts for loss of the use of club facilities and club membership.
The lawsuit could cost the motoring tycoon up to S$333,500 in damages, and he will be taking the stand from 24 to 26 November, and 30 November to 4 December in an eight-day hearing.
According to The Business Times, the members had expected new facilities to be built for them when the club management closed the club for renovation in 2013.
However, Exklusiv Resorts sold the entire land to property developer Oxley, and Novotel Singapore and The Mercure Singapore were opened on the plot in 2017.
Members had demanded for one of the hotels to be procured back and converted to a club as promised.
Peter then offered members the use of a newly built clubhouse located at the Laguna National Golf and Country Club, but lawyers representing the plaintiffs said that no formal offer has been made to their clients.
A Long And Tedious Process
Civil litigation in Singapore can be a very long and costly process.
Hence, it is advised for any party who is looking to sue to consider several matters carefully before making the decision to proceed with the legal process.
Such factors include the validity of claims, whether relief can be sought in Singapore courts, and of course, the costs of litigation.
Besides undertaking civil proceedings, many might consider alternative methods of dispute resolution, such as mediation, and only take lawsuits as the last resort.
Featured Image Credit: Asia Nikkei / The Guardian / Fineline / Street Directory