A biological mother who belatedly learned of her son’s death in the Sewol ferry disaster has won an appeal against the state for damages, overturning the first trial안전놀이터.
According to the court on Friday, the Civil Division 9 of the Seoul High Court (Chief Justice Sung Ji-yong) ordered the state to pay 400 million won in an appeal of a damages claim filed by Ms. B, the biological mother of Mr. A, against the state on March 25.
Ms. B learned of Mr. A’s death in 2021 when an official from the Special Investigation Committee on Social Catastrophes contacted her after noticing that she had not received a donation from the public for the Sewol ferry disaster.
Mr. B was reportedly so upset that it was difficult to talk to him, asking, “Did my A die because of the Sewol ferry?” and “Did he go to Danwon High School?”
Mr. A was raised by his father after his parents divorced in 2000 and reportedly did not have much interaction with his biological mother, Ms. B. When Ms. A passed away in the Sewol ferry disaster in 2014, her father did not contact her.
The first instance court rejected Mr. A’s claim, saying that the statute of limitations had passed.
However, the appeals court found that Mr. B learned of Mr. A’s death in January 2021 and filed the lawsuit before the three-year statute of limitations under the Civil Code had expired.
While the first instance court found that the officials could not be considered to have committed misconduct in the course of executing their duties in response to the Sewol ferry disaster, the appellate court came to the opposite conclusion.
“It is difficult to conclude that the rescue headquarters’ command of the situation was inadequate, and it is also difficult to conclude that the initial rescue work was inadequate and delayed,” the trial court said, adding, “Considering that the 123rd Coast Guard vessel was a small vessel, it is likely that there were limitations in implementing active rescue measures.”
On the other hand, the Appeals Tribunal pointed out that “the 123rd boat did not communicate with the Sewol even once after it was designated as the on-scene commander until it arrived at the scene of the Sewol accident,” and that it did not conduct a departure broadcast using the 123rd boat’s broadcasting equipment.
“The coast guard is subject to a stricter duty of care than land police or firefighters,” the court said, adding that “the unfortunate death of an authorized officer constitutes a violation of the duty of care, and negligence is also recognized.”