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China: Senior sues would-be Samaritan

At around 9:00 am on November 20, 2006 in the eastern city of Nanjing, a Ms. Xu, now 65, was knocked down while trying to board a bus. Peng Yu, a 26-year-old man, as he got off at the station, saw Ms. Xu lying on the ground with her left collarbone fractured.

This much is known; a lack of witness leaves what happened next embroiled in controversy. According to Peng, he helped elderly Ms. Xu up and took her to the hospital. Soon after, Ms. Xu's family arrived. Peng's good deed worthy of praise? Not this time. According to Peng, however, when Xu heard that treatment would figure into the tens of thousands, Ms. Xu immediately blurted out at him: ‘it was YOU who knocked me down!’

According to the Xus, as it was Peng Yu who knocked her down and then took her to the hospital for treatment, it is he who must take responsibility. So then Ms. Xu sued the young man for 136,419.30 yuan, including medical expenses and compensation for emotional suffering.

On September 7, at the 4th session of the case, the district court finally released its verdict: Peng Yu, partially liable for the accident, would pay 45, 876.36 yuan (US$6,076) to Ms Xu.

The court's sentence was based on the following analysis:

As the first passenger off the bus, it was most likely Peng who slammed into Ms. Xu. And according to “common sense”, if Peng had not been the one who collided with Ms. Xu, it is reasonable to assume that instead of sending the old woman to hospital, even giving her 200 yuan, he would have caught the real troublemaker. As Peng's actions run contrary to common sense, it was ruled that Peng Yu held responsibility for Ms. Xu's injury.

Emphasis: the court based its judgment entirely on “common sense”. In the absence of sustainable facts or any witnesses, a fire was immediately lit on the blogsphere, with many netizens and bloggers protesting the ruling, most of them inclined to see Peng Yu as innocent, and lamenting what impact this immensely-discussed incident would have for society when future roadside or traffic injuries occur. Would you risk lending a hand?

On his Sina blog, Shi Hanbing (时寒冰) growled for the loss of justice:

这种判决是对法律的彻底的颠覆和背叛!是对法律的公然强暴和亵渎!法官断案,要求”以事实为依据、以法律为准绳”,然而,这些判决书从头到尾都在用推理和猜测的口吻表述,这哪里是一份判决书?分明就是一部充满奇特想像力的小说.

This is an absolute betrayal of the law! It outrages and desecrates the law! We demand judges give sentences according to fact, and based on the law; yet this verdict was built entirely upon guesswork and deduction. You call this a judgment? This is nothing other than the perverse sort of imagination one sees in fiction.

The writer went on examining its negative effect on public morality:

老太太跌倒了,别人去救,法官就能得出”他的行为显然与情理相悖”的结论,在这个法官心目中,我们这个社会该是多么的黑暗啊!人心该是何等恶毒!人们的爱心正是被这种白痴和弱智的混账判决给葬送了啊!

An old woman stumbled, and someone helped her. But the judge was able to see from this that “his behavior was obviously contrary to common sense”. I doubt how dark our society is in the judge's mind, how malicious we are!
Let me tell you, our goodness gets nothing less than buried by judgments as stupid and weak as this one!

With as big as the controversy has gotten, the fear now is that if you're ever, say, hit by a bus, is anyone going to help pull you off the street? The Bullog bloggers responded by creating a campaign, calling on netizens to ‘Give Integrity One More Chance

An anonymous netizen in Baidu (百度) even raised the case to the level of charity affair:

而且这个案子毁了我国多年的对公益事业的努力, 一个案子毁了雷锋一生的成果

The case destroyed our effort committed to public charity, also ruined the lifetime fruit of Lei Feng (雷锋).

Most people considered it from the point of law and legal issue, and ridiculed the judge's sole reliance on deduction.

‘Clouds low in turning back’ (回首白云低) at Xici Hutong argues:

然而,法官对该原则的运用上出现了问题,即推定的角度错了,应该从发生事故时原被告所处的位置,原告跌倒时原被告所处的位置,证人所在的位置,被告下车时的姿势,停车地点等等来推断两人相撞的盖然性,而不应该从事发后,彭宇对原告的救助着手进行推理,乃至从彭宇救助原告,给原告200元的行为中推理出彭宇为肇事者,这样的本末倒置,且违背主流价值观的说理自然引起人们的愤慨。

The judge applied the deduction in a wrong way. He should reconstruct the scene, the positions of Peng Xu and the witness, the location of defendant when the accuser slipped up, even the posture of Peng when he got off……,rather than the reaction taken afterwards. This put the cart before the horse, also vexed people for its anti-value logic.

In this wave of fury and condemnation, still some people appealed public to be temperate, such as Southern Metropolis Daily editor Lu Yaqian, discussed here on Jiang Xia 85's MSN Live Spaces blog:

如果彭宇真的是肇事者呢?并不是完全没有这种可能。当社会对堕落奋起反抗,其结果竟然是正义覆盖真相,道德以伤害道德的方式被践行。只因人们无法信任制度,悲剧从此开始。

What if Peng really did that? It's not impossible that he did. The community is revoltngi against social degeneration, but the consequence of this is actually that a justice covers over the truth, with morality being carried out only to tread all over itself. True tragedy only begins when we lose our faith in the social system.

No matter what the result of the 2nd appeal will be, this case is destined to be remembered in the field of law study in China. Just one more thing that bears mention: the report that depicts how Peng Yu behaved when he heard the judgment:

彭宇还是一言不发,眼眶却已开始泛红。过了好一会儿,他低声说:”我要找说理的地方。”

Peng Yu remained silent, eyes moist with tears. After a long while, he muttered: “I just want to go somewhere where justice can to be found.”

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