A simply outrageous story, that couldn’t really wait for my “Korean Gender Reader” on Monday.
But, given the similar case of the singer Ivy (아이비), whose reputation was ruined by her ex-boyfriend threatening to release a sex-video of her to the media in late 2007, and who was later sued by advertisers for this despite the video never actually existing, then this latest case with Choi Jin-sil (최진실) is exceptional only in degree really.
However, in suing an actress that committed suicide, the unnamed construction company (Update: It’s Shinhan/신한건설) below may well have pushed the limits of public acceptability, and this will hopefully incur a backlash that will far outweigh the relatively small gains now to be provided by her estate.
To play Devil’s Advocate for the moment though, the appeal was probably submitted to the Supreme Court well before Choi Jin-sil’s death in October last year (Update: Indeed, it was submitted 5 years ago). But even so, of course it is deplorable that the company submitted the original suit in the first place, and I’m sure that it would have still been possible to withdraw it afterwards.
Models who failed to maintain appropriate dignity as representatives of the products they represent should compensate for the damages caused to their advertiser, the top court ruled.
The Supreme Court reversed the original ruling and ruled in favor of a construction company that filed a suit against the deceased actress Choi Jin-sil, who committed suicide last October.
The company, upon hiring the top actress as their representing model in March 2004, concluded a contract stating Choi’s duties to pay back 500 million won ($399,361), should she depreciate the company’s social reputation.
However, in August, Choi appeared on television and newspapers with her face full of bruises, allegedly caused by the violence of her then husband and retired baseball player Cho Sung-min.
Choi and Cho, who had been living apart since 2002, divorced soon after the incident.
The advertiser company thus filed a suit against the actress, requesting for 3 billion won as compensation. The amount included the 500 million won in damages as stated in the contract, additional compensation of 400 million won and 210 million won in advertising costs spent by the company.
“The purpose of the brand model contract is to use the model’s social reputation and images to draw the customers’ interest,” said the Supreme Court in the ruling. “The model’s failure to maintain an adequate image constitutes a breach of the hiring contract.”
The concept of the apartment Choi was supposed to advertise was dignity and happiness, and Choi, as its model, was under the obligation to act accordingly, said the court.
A lower court said in an earlier ruling that Choi could not be held responsible for depreciating the image of the apartment or the company as she had not been proven guilty of causing her former husband’s violence.
Choi’s mother presented herself at court, as legal representative of her two children who succeeded their mother’s duties and became defendants of the case.
The estimated value of Choi’s estate is about 5 billion won, including real estate and bank savings, according to her family.
(Source: Korea Herald)
See here for more information about domestic violence in Korea, and #2 here for more on a custody battle which Choi Jin-sil’s family also had to face in October 2008, but which her ex-husband was persuaded to give up (see here and here), and which in turn ushered in positive changes in the Korean legal system. Here’s hoping this latest case will similarly have a silver lining, and force Korean companies to rethink the ethics and long-term financial value of insisting on compensation for events beyond celebrities’ control.