+ A

Top court raises manual laborers’ maximum age

Feb 22,2019
The Supreme Court on Thursday raised the maximum working age of a manual laborer from the current 60 to 65, increasing the standard used to award damages for the first time in three decades.

The decision is expected to impact the insurance industry, as the amount of damages awarded due to lost working years will increase. It is also expected to trigger a discussion on changing the retirement age for regular workers, which is currently set at 60.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court sent back a case back to the Seoul High Court, saying it needs to recalculate the damages a swimming pool operator must pay to the family of Park Dong-hyeon, a child who drowned in an accident. It ordered it to calculate the family’s lost wages due to Park’s death up to age 65. The high court initially ruled the swimming pool operator must pay a total of 254.16 million won ($225,920) to the family.

“Until now, a manual laborer has been seen as fit to work until 60, but that opinion can no longer be maintained,” the court said. “Unless there are special circumstances, it is reasonable to say that, based on the empirical rule, a laborer is now fit to work until 65.”

The court also said the country’s social, economic and legal structures improved, and that a change was needed.

“The [Seoul High Court] obscurely used the maximum working age of 60 based on the existing empirical rule, and it was wrong,” the court said.

After Park, a four-year-old boy, drowned at a swimming pool in August 2015, his family filed a suit against the operator, demanding a total of 493.54 million won for damage and compensation. Throughout the trial, the maximum working age has been the most contentious point. In December 1989, the Supreme Court set the maximum working age at 60, raising it from 55.

The district court and high court used this age as their standard. They both calculated that Park’s son would have earned a total income of 283.38 million won by working as a manual laborer if he were to live until 60. They concluded the swimming pool operator was 60 percent responsible for the accident and ordered it to pay 174.16 million won.

The district court said additional compensation of 60 million won should be given to the Park family, and the high court increased this amount to 80 million won.

The boy’s father, however, appealed the ruling, arguing that it was unfair to use the maximum working age of 60. He said significant economic and social changes to Korea, including the aging society, the growing average lifespan and economic and employment conditions must be taken into account.

The Supreme Court then decided to try the case with a full bench, including the Supreme Court chief justice and 12 justices of the court. The court assigned all its members to the trial due to the case’s potential impact on individuals, business community, the insurance industry and pension funds. The court received opinions from representatives from various sectors before making its decision.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]