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Supreme Court sides with depressed policyholder in suicide case

June 6, 2023 - 17:07 By Hwang Joo-young

(The Supreme Court of South Korea)

South Korea's top court ruled in favor of two parents' life insurance claim after their son, the policyholder, died by suicide due to chronic depression, recognizing that the man was unable to make decisions of his own free will.

The Supreme Court dismissed a lower court's decision on Tuesday to exempt the insurance company from paying out after the parents of the deceased had filed a lawsuit against the insurance company. The lower court had argued that the suicide did not appear to have been caused by mental distress.

The policyholder had reportedly received medical treatment for depression since 2010 and acquired the life insurance policy in 2012, designating his parents as the beneficiaries.

While the man's mental illness appears to have worsened over the time, he also was thought to be suffering from economic difficulties.

According to reports, he had to quit his job as a delivery driver after hurting his back on duty in May 2019. The man was unable to receive any compensation because he was registered as a private retailer and was excluded from industrial accident insurance coverage.

The man's mental health deteriorated to the point of requiring hospitalization and he committed suicide in November 2019.

His parents tried to claim the payout from the insurance company, but it rejected the claim, arguing that the policyholder was mentally stable because he was able to have daily conversations with his sister about his circumstances.

In the first trial, the court sided with the man's parents and ordered the company to pay out, but an appeals court sided with the company.

The Supreme Court dismissed the appellate court's decision, noting it was highly likely that the policyholder was unable to behave of his own free will due to his worsening mental health. The court concluded that the insurance company is not free from liability in this case.

If you’re thinking about self-harm or suicide, contact the Ministry of Health and Welfare’s helpline 1393, available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Please request a translator for English-language services.