Under complex compensation process, South Korea, not U.S., decides claims
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — About 400 to 600 South Koreans file compensation claims each year for incidents involving U.S. Forces Korea personnel and equipment.
Claims range from minor fender-benders and property damage to death, according to Lt. Col. Timothy M. Connelly, commander of the U.S. Armed Forces Claims Service, Korea.
Connelly agreed to meet with Stars and Stripes to explain the claims process, which some civic groups criticize as being too burdensome and time consuming.
“If you’re a Korean citizen out there and a U.S. truck hits you, intuitively … you think, ‘the U.S. is going to make good on this,’” Connelly said.
But claims are “adjudicated by the Koreans, under Korean law, using Korean procedures,” Connelly said.
Claims must be submitted to the South Korean government, through one of 14 district compensation committees across the peninsula. Claimants can file in the district where the accident occurred or in the district where they live.
“One reason for that is so that folks are treated fairly,” he said.
Accidents involving the U.S. military “are treated the same way a Korean citizen would be treated in their own courts if their own armed forces did it.
“If we adjudicated some of those cases under American principles of torte law, they might get nothing,” he said. “In that sense, because we’re in an alliance together, it would be unfair to treat that Korean citizen differently then their neighbor was treated for the same kind of thing with a ROK vehicle.”
The process also makes sense because South Korean officials have access to all the information, from drivers’ licenses to birth certificates, he said.
“Obviously if you’re a Korean, it’s better to go into a Korean courthouse and deal with the Korean bureaucracy than it is to have to come and knock on the gate at Yongsan,” he said.
When Koreans do call the base, looking for assistance, they are directed to Connelly’s office.
“We field calls all the time from folks,” he said. “We then explain the process to them.”
He said the staff tells the Koreans they must file forms, available on their Web site, to the district committees.
“We get about 400 to 600 claims a year … and about two-thirds of them are traffic accidents,” he said. The majority of the other claims deal with property damage from military vehicles or helicopters.
His office staffs six Korean investigators who’ve worked for USFK from eight to 30 years.
Even though South Korean officials adjudicate the claims process, his office sends the investigators to the scene to collect data — including photos and witness statements — because they often learn of the incident first through internal channels.
“You know we get the … routine e-mail reports about incidents… and we’ll put it on our docket and go out there and start getting information so when we do get a claim it’s not, ‘Oh my God, here’s something that happened three months ago,’” he said.
The South Korean government determines how much to pay a claimant, makes the payment and sends the details to Connelly’s office. If the U.S. military is solely responsible, Connelly’s office pays 75 percent of the claim. If both U.S. and South Korean forces are involved — or if officials can’t determine if U.S. or South Korean troops are responsible — the United States pays 50 percent of the claim
Four times a year, the Justice Ministry submits a reimbursement claim to Connelly.
“We then take it and we have a spreadsheet that’s claim-by-claim where we’ve annotated what we’ve agreed to pay and what we’ve contested and what we don’t want to pay and what percentages … and we check it,” he said.