- Language Tips
China's top court has made it clear that victims of drunken driving accidents have a legal right to seek compensation from insurance companies.
The clarification is to provide guidance in hearings and trials involving damage from road accidents.
On Wednesday, the Supreme People's Court publicized a preliminary judicial interpretation on compensation to victims of traffic accidents to solicit public opinion.
The judicial interpretation has made it clear that victims of traffic accidents can seek compensation from insurance companies, even if drivers are later found to have been driving while drunk, driving without a license or using drugs. Insurance companies retain the right to recover losses from the drivers.
In China, third-party insurance, which is designed solely to protect traffic accident victims, is a mandatory requirement and each car must be insured.
Han Qiang, a professor from East China University of Political Science and Law, said though the interpretation is not law, it has equal legally binding power as it provides guidelines to courts.
"It's revolutionary because it strengthens the protection of victims," Han said. "Victims are guaranteed compensation from insurance companies regardless of disputes between insurance firms and drunken drivers - it is double insurance."
There have been repeated media reports of traffic accidents involving drunken driving in which insurance companies were unwilling to compensate victims.
"Victims are innocent," said Zhang Zhuting, an expert on road transport laws from the Ministry of Transportation. "Third-party insurance is essentially a contract made by the car owner and the insurance company that protects all victims, no matter if the person is a victim of drunken driving or not."
Meanwhile, the interpretation also stated that victims can seek compensation from taxi companies if the traffic accident involves a taxi and if the third-party insurance does not cover all the losses.
Zhao Zhikan, assistant manager of the safety department of Shanghai Jinjiang Taxi Company, one of Shanghai's top five taxi companies, said the rule has long been in practice.
"We pay about 8 million yuan ($1.27 million) annually for such kinds of taxi-related accidents to cover the part that insurance couldn't," said Zhao, adding that his company usually bought two types of insurance, including compulsory accident liability insurance and commercial insurance that imposes a 100,000-yuan ceiling on the maximum compensation for each taxi.
"So basically the upper limit for both policies is about 200,000 yuan and we need to pay the rest out of the company's wallet," he said.
However, Dou Keying, a taxi driver in Beijing, said his taxi company does not cover compensation for all losses.
"I had an accident years ago and was deemed 20 percent responsible," Dou said. "The company simply refused to pay."
The interpretation also states that the taxi company should pay less compensation when passengers are at fault, though it must shoulder full responsibility when drivers are at fault.
Yu Lingyun, a legal expert from Tsinghua University, believes taxi companies have to assume the responsibility in accidents, as they are the employers of the taxi drivers.
"As taxi companies legally own the cars, and the drivers are their employees, taxi companies are legally responsible for the victims," Yu said.