Question: I am very confused by Korean law concerning automobile accidents and who pays for damages. From what I understand, both parties share responsibility regardless of whose fault it is. Can you explain this to me?
Answer: When there is an accident involving automobiles, the issue as to who will pay how much in damages will depend on who is at fault. Often during accidents, both drivers (sometimes pedestrians) are equally at fault (e.g., 50-50). But sometimes, one person is at a greater negligence than the other. (e.g., 60-40 or 70-30). As to who pays what depends on the circumstance.
A recent Korean Supreme Court opinion decided a ratio of fault. In a case involving a car, while following a truck on a highway, an object fell out of the truck and hit the car behind it. The Court decided that the driver of the car was 20% at fault for not observing the traffic and having insufficient space between himself and the truck.
However, regardless of what the fault-ratio is, the person responsible will have to compensate the other person’s sustained damages according to the ratio. There is a caveat: although the “whose to blame” ratio may be equal, if the other person’s sustained damages is greater than the damages you suffered, then you may end up paying a lot more than what the other driver will have to pay. For example, if you drive a Hyundai Avante and the other driver was in an expensive BMW 7 series, and each car’s bumper has to be replaced as a result of the collision, then BMW’s bumper’s will cost a lot more to replace than that of the bumper of the Korean car.
Finally, on a different note, please understand that in certain circumstances, a driver can be subject to arrest and/or criminal prosecution for violation of certain traffic laws which lead to serious bodily injury or death of others. Some of these violations are illegal u-turns and running red lights that result in the injury or death.
So, be careful!
Kevin Kim is a Korean American attorney now practicing in Haeundae. He can be contacted at his law firm, Jin and Kim, by phone: 051-784-0022 or www.jinandkim.com
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