Korean Law Demystified!

The Statute of Limitations for Tort Claims (under Korean Law)


First of all, what is tort? Tort is when someone has wronged you illegally, and you can/want to sue him/her. Tort is civil law (as opposed to criminal law) and need not be based on any contract.

Let’s say, a sane stranger suddenly punches you for no good reason. In Korea, the stranger has simultaneously committed a crime and a tortious act. The stranger could face both criminal and civil liability. Criminal liability is for what the stranger has done to the society as a whole, while civil liability is to make the victim “whole” again. (Yes, you could say tort is about money.)

Another example is the O.J. Simpson Murder Case. First there was the criminal trial where he was found innocent, and later there was the lawsuit where he was found liable. (The standard for finding someone guilty/liable is stricter for criminal trials.)

Sometimes, you can sue either based on tort or on breach of contract. An example could be passengers (on a bus/train/plane) who sustain injury as a result of the driver/operator/pilot’s negligent conduct. In such case, each victim/plaintiff normally has to choose between the two options. In Korea, the statute of limitations is different for claims based on tort vs. claims based on breach of contract. For tort claims: 3 years from the time the victim becomes aware of the tortious act + the tortfeasor(s), or 10 years from the time the tortious act was done. For breach of contract claims: 1-10 years, depending on the type of contract.

FYI, the statute of limitations (in civil law) is the deadline for filing a lawsuit. The law does not wait forever for a victim to file a lawsuit. Because it’s not mandatory for a victim to file a lawsuit (i.e., it’s just a right), and it’d be unfair/cruel to leave potential defendants in the dark, guessing as to their fate indefinitely.

In Korea, there are 3 different types of a tort claims. Tort claim based on direct/active loss (e.g., hospital bills), tort claim based on indirect/passive loss (e.g., lost wages), and tort claim based on psychological pain & suffering (e.g., the mental anguish of the experience). These 3 claims are treated as separate claims under Korean law, meaning they can be filed separately (or together).

Tort is a broader concept than crime. For example, adultery in South Korea. It’s a tortious act but not a crime. (Illegality is the commonality.) The Seoul High Court recently affirmed a lower court decision which had rejected an 84-year-old woman’s tort claim based on psychological pain & suffering. She was suing her late husband’s lover. (Backstory: They got married in 1956, but the husband ran off with another woman in the 70s. The husband passed away in 1996, but the woman/lover is still alive.) She was asking his lover for KRW 300 mil. But the claim was rejected mainly because the statute of limitations had already expired. With regard to any pain & suffering within the last 3 years, the court basically felt it was non-existent by that point. For all intents and purposes, the lover was the “wife.”

Thanks for reading!

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