Yang Fan, a doctor from Zhengzhou, Henan province. (Photo provided to China Daily)
Accused physician sees chance to focus on work, family after decision
Yang Fan's feelings of anxiety finally subsided after a court overturned a decision that ordered him to compensate the family of an elderly man who died after a quarrel over smoking in an elevator.
"I never thought I would be taken to court," Yang, a doctor from Zhengzhou, Henan province, told China Daily last week. "I hope it's the last time."
Yang's stress began on May 2, when he got into a heated exchange with the deceased, surnamed Duan, 69, in a residential community elevator after he asked the elderly man to stop smoking. Soon after, Duan suffered a fatal heart attack.
The argument was recorded by the elevator camera. The quarrel between the two men was only verbal and no physical confrontation took place.
"Duan's family asked me to pay more than 200,000 yuan ($31,754) in compensation for the death when I met them in a police station after the incident occurred, but I disagreed. It was not reasonable," Yang said.
Later, the family filed a lawsuit in the city's Jinshui district court. At that time, Yang, 38, quit his job at a private clinic in Zhengzhou, as dealing with the litigation demanded much time of his time, and his wife, who had been hospitalized giving birth to their second child, also needed his care.
In September, the district court ruled Yang should "share the loss" from the elderly man's death, ordering him to pay 15,000 yuan in damages.
Yang did not appeal to a higher court, because he was unwilling to incur more costs and the process would upset Duan's family again.
"After all, the old man passed away," Yang said, but added he was not happy with the ruling.
However, the plaintiff appealed to the Zhengzhou Intermediate People's Court, claiming the compensation was far from enough.
On Jan 23, the higher court overturned the original verdict, saying it was inappropriate because Yang's behavior did not directly cause the elderly man's death.
The surveillance footage from the elevator also showed Yang remained relatively "calm and restrained" during the five-minute conflict, whereas Duan, who had heart disease, was in a state of "excitement" and became increasingly unstable as time passed, the court said.
"Yang's behavior was normal, so the quarrel could not be seen as the direct cause of Duan's death," it said.
In addition, Yang did not leave until the community's property management office intervened. Duan went to the office before having the heart attack, it said.
Article 24 of Tort Law states "both parties should share the loss when neither can take sole blame for the loss", which was the legal basis of the district court ruling. However, the higher court disagreed, noting that the article cited would only apply if Yang's behavior had caused the smoker's death.
In addition, under regulations issued by the city's government in 1998, smoking is prohibited in evaluators and citizens are entitled to ask smokers to stop.
"We also wanted to tell residents through the ruling that abiding by the law is an obligation and keeping public order is their responsibility," the higher court said.
Yang was relieved after hearing the court's decision. "Although troubled by the case for more than 11 months, I was reassured by the justice system."
China Daily also contacted Duan's son-in-law, but he declined to be interviewed. Beijing News reported in late January that the deceased's family were unhappy with the ruling. "The elevator camera had no audio, so no one knows what Yang said," the paper quoted Duan's son-in-law as saying.
Shan Yanwei, Yang's lawyer, said the significance of the case lies in the prohibition of smoking in public places.
"The more attention we pay, the more effectively we can urge smokers to obey the regulation and alleviate worries of those who ask others to stop smoking in public places," she said.