Alipay launches “I got sued for helping a senior citizen” insurance
Good Samaritan Laws in China
When I first arrived in China from Canada, one of the first pieces of advice I was given by my local friends was to never help anyone on the bus or on the streets, even if they were injured. I was informed of several high profile cases in the news involving Good Samaritans who, instead of being thanked for their aid, were wrongfully accused of causing harm. In some cases, Good Samaritans were determined by the courts to be liable for injuries and ordered to pay large sums of money.
Some notable examples:
- 2007: A man named Peng Yu helps an old woman who fell to the ground after getting off a bus. The old woman sues him successfully for $7000 in court. The judge reasons that Peng must be responsible, otherwise he would not have accompanied her to the hospital.
- 2009: A man named Xu Yunhe stops his car to help an old woman who fell trying to cross a guard rail. The old woman sues him, claiming his car knocked her down. The judge in this case finds Xu Yunhe 40% to blame despite no evidence proving he had actually hit the old woman. Xu is ordered to pay the woman 100,000 yuan.
- 2014: A man named Wu Weiqing comes across a fallen old man while riding his motorbike. He helps the old man up and pays 3500 yuan for his medical expenses. The family of the old man in turn attempts to extort Wu for large sums of money. Facing false accusations and possible legal / financial penalties, Wu commits suicide. Later his accuser confesses to having fell down himself, only demanding money from Wu due to lack of money to pay his own medical bills.
These legal precedents and high profile news stories have had serious consequences on the willingness of citizens to help injured strangers. In 2011, a two year-old girl by the name of Wang Yue (see Wang Yue Incident), was struck by a van in Foshan, Guangdong province. Security cameras captured more than 18 onlookers pass by without attempting to help her. More than 7 minutes passed by and Wang Yue was struck by another van. She eventually succumbed to her injuries in hospital. Despite much public outrage and discussion about this tragedy, very little progress has been made regarding Good Samaritan laws in China.
Alipay’s “Support the Old” Insurance
In 2013, Shenzhen became the first and only city in China to institute Good Samaritan laws. In the absence of national legislation of Good Samaritan laws, the private sector has stepped in to fill the gap. Last month, Alipay, China’s mega financial payment processor, launched a new type of insurance designed to provide Good Samaritans financial aid should they ever face a lawsuit due to their helping hands.
The Alipay “Support the Old” insurance provides a maximum coverage of 20,000 RMB (approximately $3100 USD) worth of legal costs in the event one ends up in court after helping a senior citizen in public. The cost of the insurance premium is only 3 RMB per year– about the cost of a Coke. It is important to note that the insurance only covers legal costs and does not cover any damages resulting from indemnification, should one lose a lawsuit. However, Alipay’s “Support the Old” insurance program does offer legal consultancy services in addition to the coverage of legal costs.
Alipay reported that 50,000 people had signed up for the insurance within the first 4 days of the launch. According to a spokesperson of the parent company of Alipay, they hope the insurance will encourage people to support the elderly and promote “the positive energy of the society”.
While Alipay’s effort to foster goodwill in society has been welcomed by many, it is still not a replacement for much needed Good Samaritan laws in China. Many netizens commented that 20,000 RMB was not enough to cover legal costs in this kind of lawsuit. Others more cynically marvelled at Alipay’s attempt to extract profit from any situation.
The Future of China’s Bad Samaritan Problem
Good Samaritan laws exist in every developed country. In fact, in several countries such as France and Germany, the laws go one step further, stating a “duty to rescue”. Failure to provide reasonable aid in these countries can result in legal penalties. To outsiders, the lack of Good Samaritan laws in China and their inevitable consequences can seem maddening. While there have been signs of progress, tragic cases like 2 year-old Wang Yue’s will continue to occur until comprehensive laws are passed to protect those who come to the aid of the fallen.
For further reading: Mengyun Tang’s (Cornell Law Journal) in-depth legal analysis of the Bad Samaritan problem in China – Does China Need “Good Samaritan” Laws to Save “Yue Yue”?