Insurance Law Update: Driving in Korea
January 26, 2010
RED CLOUD GARRISON - Many Soldiers who drive in Korea purchase the minimum required auto insurance coverage.
Instead of purchasing the minimum, Soldiers should look into buying excess liability auto insurance with unlimited coverage for personal injury.
Under the Korean Special Law, excess liability insurance may prevent the Soldier from criminal prosecution for most traffic accidents, while Soldiers with the minimal auto insurance can still be prosecuted for the same crimes.
According to a private Korean defense attorney, he will not drive unless covered by the excess liability insurance and advises his clients to obtain such insurance to avoid criminal prosecution.
Excess liability insurance will cost more than the minimal auto insurance coverage. The cost will depend on individual factors.
An international insurance company licensed in Korea estimated that excess liability insurance for a 28 year old male is approximately $466 per year.
Soldiers should keep in mind that excess liability insurance is not a "get out of jail free" card.
Korean law still allows, though does not mandate, criminal prosecution if one of the following actions leads to the traffic accident: (1) disobeying traffic signals or instructions by a policeman (2) crossing the center line of the road or making an illegal U-turn (3) violating the speed limit (4) passing improperly (5) crossing railroad tracks improperly (6) driving under the influence of alcohol (7) driving without a valid driver's license (8) not respecting the right of pedestrians (9) not providing aid to a victim and (10) hit and run accidents.
Additionally, a recent decision by the Constitutional Court of Korea indicated excess liability insurance will not protect the driver if serious injuries result from the accident.
However, because this is a new development in Korean law, "serious injury" is not well defined.
The Constitutional Court of Korea generally considers damage to important organs, paralysis, and loss of hearing/eyesight as constituting serious injury. Soldiers should also be aware that excess liability insurance does not shield them from criminal prosecution in a fatality case, regardless of one of the 10 specific factors.
Despite the above limitations, excess liability may prevent a foreign conviction in most auto accidents.
The cost of excess liability insurance may seem expensive in comparison to minimal auto insurance coverage, but if a driver is prosecuted and convicted, the costs can be quite high. The minimum fine that a Korean prosecutor's office will recommend to a Korean court is around $300, in addition to a private monetary settlement with the victim.
The amount of the fine and monetary settlement greatly increase depending on the seriousness of the accident or injuries.
Any fine adjudged by a Korean court is the equivalent of a foreign conviction. Soldiers may be administratively separated from the Army after receiving a foreign conviction under the provisions of Army Regulation 635-200 (Active Duty Enlisted Administrative Separations), paragraph 14-9. Locally, Eighth Army United States Command Policy Letter #5 states when foreign civil authorities (a) convict a Soldier of an offense that mirrors grounds for discharge under the Manual for Courts Martial or (b) sentence a soldier to 6 months confinement or more, "the immediate commander of the Soldier must either initiate separation or forward a recommendation for retention through the chain of command to the General Court-Martial Convening Authority."
Traffic accidents could, in some cases, qualify as a foreign conviction requiring separation. Soldiers interested in reducing the potential of a foreign conviction and financial liability should contact a local Korean insurance company or their own insurance company (if the company is licensed to operate in Korea) for an estimate on excess liability insurance coverage.
In 2007, 6,166 people died in 211,662 traffic accidents in Korea, for an average of 16.9 deaths everyday on the roads. The accidents happened most frequently in the evening, between 6 and 10 p.m., when 24.4 percent of the total number of accidents, or 1,505 cases, took place.