Celebrity Loses Case Against BMW

Kim Su-mi, an actress and singer, has lost her suit against the carmaker BMW involving an alleged "sudden-start" accident that killed her mother-in-law in August 1998. The Seoul District Court ruled that there was insufficient evidence to prove that the car in question was defective and prone to sudden-starts, in which cars supposedly accelerate when the drivers apply the brake.

The accident occurred as Kim's mother-in-law, who was in her 70s, was in front of a gas station in Banpo-dong, southern Seoul, and putting up posters for a concert Kim was to give. The mother-in-law told her driver to back up so she could get something out of the trunk. The car lurched in reverse and hit her, then dragged her 10 meters and continued another 20 meters before stopping when it hit some trees and a streetlight pole beside the road.

The driver claimed that he because he had 30 years of experience driving he could never have mistaken the gas pedal for the brake.

In 1999, Kim filed suit against BMW and its domestic sales agent, alleging that the car had a defect.

The Seoul District Court said in its ruling that it was unclear whether the accident was caused by driver error or a sudden-start.

The court said that under the new product liability law, which took effect in July 2002, the manufacturer must conduct a thorough review to determine the cause of accident in cases like this one. But when the cause cannot be determined even with modern technology, it said, the manufacturer is absolved of responsibility.

Korean judges seem skeptical about sudden-starts. Plaintiffs have in the past won cases in which they claimed sudden-starts occurred, but only in the lower courts. The verdicts have never held up on appeals.
(Jeon Su-yong, jsy@chosun.com)
jsy@chosun.com / 9 02, 2003 17:51 KST