Korean Law Demystified!

Taking a Drunk Coworker/Friend Home (in Korea)

[Example Situation]


Danny (age 34), Dirk (age 31), and Paula (age 31) are coworkers at a digital broadcasting company in Seoul. One evening after work, the three decide to go for a drink. They eat and drink merrily. Once it’s time to head home, Danny and Dirk realize Paula is just way too drunk. She is half-asleep, speaking gibberish in a drunken stupor. Danny and Dirk are quite intoxicated too, but at least they can walk/talk. So, the two kindly decide to take Paula home first. The three take a cab and get off at an area near Paula‘s villa/apartment. But it’s dark, and Danny and Dirk have a hard time locating the place. (Being drunk themselves doesn’t help either.) Yet, they stubbornly try and try (for over an hour). They do so by taking turns in giving Paula a piggyback ride. And in the process, Danny and Dirk accidentally drop Paula (a total of) three times. As a result, she suffers skull fractures + cerebral hemorrhaging. It is also later revealed that Paula has permanently lost (almost all) hearing in one ear! She loses her job as well. Paula is alive but heavily traumatized. Paula (and her parents) sue Danny and DirkPaula also files a criminal complaint against them both. What outcome can she expect under Korean law?

The above “example situation” is very similar to a lower court case that was widely reported (about three months ago) here in Korea. FYI, the court decision came out around then, but the incident itself happened on March 15, 2012.

I. The Ruling

The Seoul Central District Court held for the plaintiffs (i.e., Paula and her parents) in the amount of (about) 116 million won (which is about USD 105,000). The defendants (i.e., Danny and Dirk) will have to pay 110 million to Paula, and 6 million to her parents.

In the criminal case, meanwhile, Danny and Dirk were both found guilty of the crime of “Bodily Injury by Gross Negligence” (중과실치상) and each fined 3 million won (벌금).

II. Reasoning

Initially, Danny and Dirk had no duty to take Paula home. But once they decided to do so, they then had a duty (based on the principles of trust and good faith) to take appropriate measures in keeping her safe. It was quite predictable Danny and Dirk (tired and drunk) could easily drop Paula and that she could suffer serious injuries as a result. The two should have sought other ways than taking turns in trying to give Paula a piggyback ride for more than an hour. According to reports, Danny and Dirk also failed to take appropriate measures afterwards. They even tried to prevaricate with regard to the exact cause of her injuries. But since Danny and Dirk were “only trying to help” and Paula got drunk voluntarily, Danny and Dirk were only found 60% responsible. Indeed, the 116 million amount was a reflection of that. The plaintiffs had asked for much more. In the criminal case, Danny and Dirk were found guilty of “Bodily Injury by Gross Negligence” for similar reasons.

III. The Bottom Line

In Korea, you normally don’t have an affirmative legal duty to take your drunk coworker/friend home. But once you decide to do so, you can/will be held responsible for failure to take proper care of him/her. Especially if he/she suffers injuries as a result. If you are too tired/drunk yourself, play it safe and call others for help. You can also call the police for help.

Thanks for reading!

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