Korean Law Demystified!

Car Accident Law in Korea: Giving Someone a Lift/Ride…

[Example Situation]


One spring weekend, Boyfriend and Girlfriend decide to go see cherry blossoms together. They decide to go by (Boyfriend’s) car. Boyfriend is the driver, and Girlfriend is a passenger. (She’s not paying for the ride.) Alas… On the way, they get into a horrible car accident (with a huge truck), and Girlfriend is killed on the spot. It turns out the accident was 75% Boyfriend’s fault and 25% the truck driver’s fault. How much compensation can/will Girlfriend’s family receive under Korean law?

The above example is based on Supreme Court Decision 2012다87263.

I. The Ruling

Boyfriend’s insurance company was ordered to pay about 225 mil won, and the truck driver’s was ordered to pay about 75 mil won.

So Girlfriend’s family was able to receive about 300 mil won (total).

II. Reasoning

The amounts reflect the 75% vs. 25%, and that was not the issue. The real issue: Whether the fact that Boyfriend was giving Girlfriend a lift/ride should factor in at all. Does this reduce Boyfriend’s responsibility vis–à–vis Girlfriend? And the truck driver’s responsibility too? A: Yes, and yes.

In this case, both by 20% to be exact. So in theory, her family could have received a max amount of about 375 mil won (total). The (mere) fact that Boyfriend was kinda doing Girlfriend a favor essentially reduced that amount to about 300 mil won (total). But what’s really noteworthy about this case is that the truck driver’s responsibility was reduced as well!

The lower courts had denied reducing the truck driver’s responsibility saying that such a relationship existed only/strictly between Boyfriend and Girlfriend. So why should a 3rd party benefit by chance?

The Supreme Court reversed and remanded this part saying that, Boyfriend and the truck driver are joint tortfeasors (vis–à–vis Girlfriend), so how much they jointly owe her (family) should be calculated first. And in such case, the 20% reduction cannot but affect the truck driver too. The photo at the top is the Court explaining this.

III. Additional Comments

1. Only in the 90s did the courts start recognizing such reductions. 10% is now usually the starting point. Can go up to 30% if the passenger knew it would be a dangerous ride (e.g., knew the driver had no license).

2. The rate depends on things such as: where they were headed (+ to do what), how they know each other, how actively the passenger had asked for that ride…  –> ultimately, if reduction is the fair/equitable thing to do.

Thanks for reading!

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