This article first appeared in the Jan/Feb 2016 issue of WGM.
In what has been described as a classic case of David v Goliath, Australian lawyer Mr Adesh Goel took on Resorts World Sentosa claiming damages for false imprisonment, assault and battery … and won! WGM takes a look at the verdict.
In a landmark ruling handed down on 4 November 2015, the Singapore High Court has found Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) – Genting Group’s Singapore casino operation – guilty of false imprisonment, assault and battery following an incident in which a patron was detained for 46 minutes in April 2012.
What began as a dispute over a SG$50 chip ultimately led to a trial held more than three years later, conducted over 12 days, involving 11 lawyers and 13 witnesses with the High Court finding, “RWS had no legal basis for its conduct towards Mr Goel on the evening.”
Mr Goel had accused RWS of holding him in a back room against his will, breaking his shoulder and refusing him medical attention.
Despite the incident being captured on their in-house CCTV cameras, RWS maintained throughout the trial that its actions were justified and that Mr Goel was fully responsible for any injuries which occurred to him on the night and during the period of false imprisonment.
In delivering his judgement, Justice Choo Han Teck stated, “the acts of holding him [Goel] back, grabbing his arms and the scuffles which resulted in him being hit against the wall are not conduct that are ordinarily acceptable in daily life.”
He stated that Mr Goel did not appear to intend to be violent or physically abusive toward any RWS security officers.
Whilst Mr Goel was invited to a side-room to discuss the incident, the couple who had initially taken Mr Goel’s chip mistakenly and became abusive when asked by the dealer to return it were allowed to continue to roam the Maxim Club’s High Rollers area of the casino freely.
Justice Choo further found that the casino had no lawful basis for detaining Mr Goel as there was no suggestion that Mr Goel had or was about to commit any offence which may have entitled the casino to detain a suspect patron under the powers conferred upon it through the Singapore Casino Control Act 2007.
For the torts of false imprisonment, assault and battery, Mr Goel was awarded SG$45,915 of which RWS would be liable to Goel for 80 percent of the amount awarded. Justice Choo noted that although Goel had not commenced legal proceedings against RWS’s security contractor SATS Security Services (who he found liable for the other 20 percent), he would be entitled to do so should he choose.
In a statement to WGM Goel said, “I am glad that the court, having seen the video footage, has confirmed RWS was in the wrong and put to rest the notion that RWS was in anyway legally justified in imprisoning me and fracturing my shoulder.”
During the trial, RWS’s conduct following the 22 April 2012 incident was put under the spotlight. One issue which raised significant questions was RWS’s inability to provide the so-called “House Rules” which RWS used to exclude Mr Goel for a 12 month period.
RWS had been requested in May 2012 to provide their “House Rules”, yet despite their lawyers ascertaining there was no such document, RWS refused to concede this to Goel until February 2014. When quizzed on Goel’s request for a copy of the “House Rules”, Mark Chee, Vice President and Head of Legal replied, “If there were such a document … we would have given it.”
RWS was also accused of trying to paint Mr Goel as being “drunk, offensive and violent”, stating they would “show the extent of the effect alcohol had on Mr Goel at trial.”
In January 2015, 18 months after the initial allegation of drunkenness, RWS sought to have the allegation removed from their defence without consequence. By this time both parties had spent significant time and legal costs in establishing the evidence around the issue of drunkenness, with RWS resisting calls to produce evidence of Mr Goel being either drunk or violent.
Upon learning about the withdrawal of the allegation of drunkenness as part of RWS’s defence for their actions, Goel sought costs thrown away resulting from the issue being removed and a public apology by RWS to be published in all newspapers which had previously carried the allegation of drunkenness made against Goel. RWS declined to issue the apology and the proceeding continued to the July 2015 trial.
The matter is currently set to go before the Singapore Court of Appeal to determine if, as a matter of policy, secondary victimization against Goel warrants an award for aggravated damages.
Another area of policy likely to be determined by the Court of Appeal is whether an award of exemplary damages should be made against RWS as some have claimed that RWS has not been deterred from such future conduct toward patrons by the Casino Regulatory Authority of Singapore.
Goel stated “The issue of finding exemplary damages against a corporation by the Singapore Court of Appeal would be a signal to all corporations that the rule of law is truly enforced in Singapore and the consequences of unbecoming conduct by corporations does not go unpunished.”
In a written statement, a spokesperson for RWS told WGM, “Resorts World Sentosa respects and is pleased with the judgment delivered by the High Court with regard to the case of Mr Goel Adesh Kumar and we look forward to the next round of proceedings for the High Court.
“Resorts World Sentosa has been delivering exemplary customer experience to all our visitors and we stay committed in ensuring a safe and enjoyable experience for all our guests.”