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Parents in B.C. awarded damages based on Korean tradition after son’s death

17-year-old was struck and killed by vehicle at crosswalk on Vancouver Island in 2019
Nanaimo RCMP closed a section of Hammond Bay Road in March 6, 2019, after a pedestrian was hit at the Brigantine Drive intersection. (News Bulletin file photo)

The parents of a teenager, who died after being hit by a car in a crosswalk in Nanaimo on Vancouver Island, four and a half years ago were awarded more than $300,000 based on theoretical financial assistance their son could have one day provided to them.

Jaeheon (Eric) Shim, 17, was struck and killed by a vehicle driven by Brandon Geoffrey Murdoch on March 6, 2019. Toyota Credit Canada Inc. and Murdoch were the defendants in the case.

One of the issues examined by the court was the Korean tradition of hyodo, in which children offer financial support to their parents, stated the decision, which came down Tuesday, Sept. 19, in Vancouver.

Shim, an only child, came to Nanaimo in 2012 and his parents, Jiyeon Kim and Myeongsup Shim, purchased a sushi restaurant in 2016, where Shim worked 20 hours a week without payment. He also served as a translator for his parents, who had rudimentary command of English, for work and day-to-day activities.

“Apart from the sad facts underlying the case, the court’s task is profoundly difficult and inherently hypothetical: what would have been the economic future path of Eric and his parents, had he lived?” stated Supreme Court Justice David Crerar.

Ross King, UBC professor of Korean studies, testified that “hyodo duty” falls on the shoulders of the eldest son, traditionally, and was a “statutorily imposed obligation” among Korean families until the 1990s, according to court documents. As such, children in traditional Korean families are more inclined to adhere to hyodo.

The defence argued that the professor wasn’t sufficiently well-versed in “sociology, gerontology, genealogy, nursing, or economics in such a way as to properly digest and weigh the academic literature he cites, or to provide testimony about the economic practice of hyodo, particularly in Canada amongst young Korean-Canadians,” the court documents noted.

The B.C. Family Compensation Act was another aspect of the case and the judge stated that while damages in cases with a surviving spouse and children are usually not controversial, situations involving a child’s death, “particularly one who has not yet established a steady stream of income, or a regular pattern of support for their parents,” is more burdensome.

While the defendants stated that the hyodo-based arguments were “excessively speculative” and if there were to be monetary compensation, it should be “significantly offset against future costs to raise the child, and should be nominal.”

The judge pointed out that the victim consistently assisted his parents and suggested the case was a rare circumstance “where the loss of a child constitutes a sufficiently certain economic loss of substance.”

Shim also was said to have been immersed in Korean culture and observed Korean holidays, the court documents stated, and further, his father paid $700,000 for an apartment for Shim’s grandparents to reside in, rent- and mortgage-free. The father also provides an additional $5,000-$7,000 to the grandparents each year.

Shim had been accepted to Vancouver Island University, stated court documents, and the judge said a future in the restaurant business, particularly the one owned by his family, was likely.

Loss of translation, hyodo financial consideration and restaurant labour were considered in awarding damages, according to the ruling.

The parents sought close to $1.7 million in damages, and while the judge ruled in their favour, the court awarded approximately $328,000.

The trial took place in Vancouver this past January.

RELATED: Pedestrian struck on Hammond Bay Road, taken to Victoria hospital

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Karl Yu

About the Author: Karl Yu

I joined Black Press in 2010 and cover education, court and RDN. I am a Ma Murray and CCNA award winner.
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