We interviewed Jacqueline Chua—the Managing Partner of Jacque Law LLC, an up-and-coming boutique law firm which specialises in medical negligence cases and private client matters—to find out more about how her practice helps her clients through their most difficult and vulnerable times.
Prior to founding her firm, Jacqueline trained and practised at the most reputable law firms in Singapore. She started her legal career at Allen & Gledhill LLP, and subsequently as a partner at WongPartnership LLP where she was one of the panel lawyers for Singapore Medical Council, Jacqueline was able to hone her skills in medical negligence litigation. Throughout her career, she has represented both plaintiffs and defendants in medical negligence cases in the High Court of Singapore and in the Disciplinary Tribunal before SMC. Jacqueline now focuses on plaintiff / claimant representation.
When asked why the switch in practice focus, Jacqueline shared, “While we understand that people make mistakes, the consequences when doctors make mistakes can be severe and may be irreversible. Patients who are victims of medical negligence often do not know their legal rights and are under a lot of distress, and do not know who to turn to. I have the ability to help them to understand what legal rights they have. I have found it to be a rewarding experience, being able to help a person through one of their most traumatic life experiences.”
As medical negligence is a very technical and niche area of practice, we asked Jacqueline about how she has overcome her challenges thus far.
How do you understand the medical jargon if you are not a doctor?
I have been well exposed to medical negligence law and therefore have had the opportunity to build up my knowledge of medical terms. After I graduated from law school, I trained and worked with a team that specialised in medical negligence defence. I also look up medical textbooks and speak to professionals in the medical fraternity. Sometimes the medical terms can be difficult to understand and the patient’s medical records can be voluminous. In one of our recent cases, the patient’s medical records comprised a total of 23 arch files. It was hard work, having to decipher the terms and the doctor’s handwriting before we were able to analyse the legal issues.
How do you see your role as a medical negligence lawyer?
Outside the courtroom, a medical negligence lawyer must also be able to relate to their clients with empathy. A client in a medical negligence case is often also a patient or a family member who has lost a loved one. I often play the role of a counsellor in addition to a lawyer – I recognise that there is often a lot of pain, suffering and grief experienced by a victim of a medical negligence case. Therefore, in addition to providing sound legal advice, I try to listen and empathise as much as I can.
What are the misconceptions you want to clarify about medical negligence cases?
There appears to be a misconception that the standard to prove medical negligence is very high because you generally believe that doctors would act with prudence and that if something goes wrong, it’s because there’s always risk when it comes to surgeries, and diagnosis is not always straightforward because the human body is complex. Often, many victims of medical negligence are worried to proceed with a lawsuit because it is difficult to go against an educated professional or they are not sure whether they have indeed been wronged.
What they do not know is that there is no need to immediately commence a lawsuit against the doctor. We can always obtain more information from the doctor/hospital to ascertain the merits of the case. Even if one ultimately chooses not to proceed with a lawsuit, this fact-finding process would at the very least hold a doctor accountable for the level of care in which he/she has accorded to the patient, and to prevent further lapses in medical care.
Apart from medical negligence and family law, do you specialise in any other areas of law?
We also specialise in succession planning and mental capacity proceedings. The Mental Capacity Act is still relatively new as it was only introduced to the public 10 years ago. It introduced the ability for a person (the donor) to execute Lasting Powers of Attorney to allow their named donees to make certain decisions for them in the event that they lose mental capacity. Most of the people who have signed a Lasting Power of Attorney (“LPA”) may not fully understand the differences between the different forms of an LPA, and an LPA which is not prepared to serve the purposes required by the donor can have rather severe implications.
We have recently won an appeal in the Family Division of the High Court involving the misuse of an LPA. In that case, the form of the LPA used was not suitable for a business owner with vast assets. We therefore recommend that, advice be sought on the preparation of an LPA so that the necessary safeguards are introduced to suit the circumstances and needs of the donor.
As a parting question, what tips do you have for persons who are considering commencing a medical negligence claim?
There is a difference between medical records and medical reports. A medical report is simply a summary prepared by the doctor, whereas the medical records would be a detailed sequential note / record taken by the doctors and nurses during the medical treatment process. When in doubt as to whether to commence action against a medical professional, ask for the full medical records (which a patient is rightfully entitled to), and seek advice from a medical negligence law specialist.