[Letter to the editor]Air crash compensation unfairA partial ruling on Wednesday by the Busan District Court awarded compensation to the families of six victims in a China Airlines crash in Gimhae five years ago which took about 120 lives. Although the suit asked for 12 billion won ($13 million), the court granted only 900 million won. The compensation amounted to about 150 million won per person.
Aircraft accidents are often big disasters. Therefore, it is customary for developed nations to strictly assign responsibility for airplane accidents and make sure the victims are fully compensated. This is done in order to guarantee safe flights.
At the end of August last year, the Seoul Central District Court ruled that the victims of the Gimhae crash case should get 50 million won. This is the same amount that would have been given victims of a car accident, much to the consternation of the plaintiffs. The ruling in Busan can be applauded for breaking the 50 million won compensation level.
However, compensation of 150 million won per person is measly, compared to developed countries such as the United States. In the Korean Air accident over Sakhalin Island in 1983, the compensation was 900 million won to 1 billion won for each victim. In another Korean Air accident on Guam Island in 1997, a similar amount was awarded even though Korean law was applied by the U.S. court.
South Korea joined the ranks of developed countries when it joined the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development 10 years ago. It is now the world’s 11th-biggest economy, but the Korean court’s rulings on the amount of compensation are still at a developing country’s level. It will not be China Airlines that pays the compensation; the English insurance company, Lloyd’s of London, is footing the bill. Therefore, there is no need for the Korean court to be extra-sensitive to China’s needs.
Lee Sang-myun, professor of law,
Seoul National University