Legal Updates

Doctor jailed for gross negligence manslaughter over death of a liposuction patient: HKSAR v KWAN HAU CHI, VANESSA [2021] HKCFI 2978

Before:  Hon D’Almada Remedios J in Court
Date of Reasons for Sentence: 4 October 2021

In 2014, Ms Lee Kar-ying Josephine (“P”) died following a liposuction procedure performed by a registered medical practitioner, the defendant (“D”), at the “Regrowth Hair Transplant Centre Ltd” on the 7th floor of No. 2 Carnarvon Road.

During the procedure, P was administered sedative drugs by D, who was only assisted by 2 receptionists and 2 beauticians. These 4 assistants were not qualified in sedation and did not know how to resuscitate. P was not supplied with oxygen. While P was attached to an equipment called “Passport (Mindray)” to monitor physiological variables during the procedure, the device alarmed throughout the procedure. The alarm showed that there was a problem with the vital signs of P but the alarm was ignored and silenced by one or other of the assistants. (§11-23)

After completing the liposuction procedure, D left the operation room leaving P, who was still sedated and unconscious, in the care of the 4 medically untrained assistants. (§24-28)

D was charged with and found guilty of manslaughter by way of gross negligence, contrary to Common Law and punishable under section 7 of the Offences against the Person Ordinance (Cap. 212).

The judge sentenced D on the bases (§7):

  • that D had breached her duty of care to P by failing to:
    1. ensure the presence of a properly qualified person to administer and monitor sedation;
    2. ensure sufficient oxygen supply;
    3. follow the “Guidelines on Procedural Sedation” of the Hong Kong Academy of Medicine;
    4. provide proper and sufficient monitoring after the liposuction procedure; and
    5. provide adequate timely resuscitation.
  • that P was under deep sedation after D administered to her a combination of sedative drugs except for a very short period when she came out of deep sedation during the procedure.

The judge held that (§8):

  • It was apparent from the jury’s verdict that D’s conduct fell far below the standard of a competent doctor. D’s inactions and actions substantially caused P’s death.  A reasonably competent doctor would have foreseen that the breach of D’s duties would give rise to a serious and obvious risk of death and D’s breach was so truly exceptionally bad and so reprehensible.

In sentencing D, the judge considered, among other things:

  • (§49-57) the Victim Impact Reports on P’s mother, daughter and boyfriend, which revealed that P’s family was facing tremendous disruption, financial instability, hardship and the loss of a significant person in their lives;
  • (§58–70) D’s culpability taking into account, among other things, the very serious departure from normal professional standards and the immense failings in D’s duty such as:
    1. D’s failure to ensure optimisation of P’s airway or provide her with oxygen even though D anticipated that P’s respiratory condition could be compromised;
    2. D’s failure to monitor or assess P’s vital signs during and after the procedure;
    3. D’s display of a blatant and serious disregard to the wellbeing of P and to the valuable warning that P’s life was at risk and in jeopardy; and
    4. D appallingly leaving P in the hands of medically untrained assistants when she knew that P was sedated and not awake or conscious.

Given the magnitude of D’s actions and inactions, the judge sentenced D to 6 years’ imprisonment.

Please refer to the Reasons for Sentence for details.

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