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Court Awards Billions in Damages to Relatives of Victims in the Danube Sightseeing Boat Tragedy

Relatives of those who perished in the Hableány tragedy have been granted a total of 1.8 billion Hungarian forints in compensation.
Individual awards vary, with some receiving 5 million and others up to 80 million forints.

"Incomprehensible tragedy on a human scale," cited the presiding judge during the announcement of the compensation verdict in the Hableány case, explaining the reason substantial compensation was awarded to the relatives of the victims who lost their lives. In the lawsuit, 78 claimants sought damages totaling 4.3 billion forints, of which the judge found a sum of 1 billion 825 million forints to be justified and ruled accordingly.

The judge opined that in four cases, the claimants were not entitled to any compensation. The judge emphasized that the compensation is not about the monetary value of human lives, but rather a mandatory payment based on suffered grievances, as dictated by current legal regulations.

Viking Cruises AG and Panoráma Deck have been ordered to pay the hefty sum within 15 days. The sums awarded to the victims' relatives vary significantly, with some receiving 5 million and others up to 80 million forints.

In the judgment, the judge also pointed out the claim by lawyers representing Viking Cruises that, in fact, the Hableány had an obligation to give way to the approaching Viking Sigyn. The judge found it absurd that the comparatively small Hableány, only a fortieth the size of the Viking, was expected to move out of the way before the collision.

"Assuming, but not conceding, that the Hableány had an obligation to give way, it does not justify the larger vessel navigating as if there were no smaller boat in front of it and then running it over," the judge explained.

The judgment also mentioned that the Hableány was not in a seaworthy condition on the night of the accident, as it was short-staffed by one sailor. The required number of sailors for a ship's deck is specified in what is called a navigation certificate. It's impossible to ascertain whether the accident could have been averted if there had been a second sailor on board the Hableány. However, the judge suggested that "more eyes would have seen more," perhaps noticing that the Viking Sigyn, forty times larger, was dangerously close. It is a sailor's duty to detect this, as they must participate in identifying and preventing hazards.

The role of another Viking ship, which was also sailing nearby on the Danube at the time of the accident, was mentioned in the ruling. The Viking Idun should have participated in the rescue, "just as many nearby small boats did, resulting in the painfully few survivors being saved."

Curiously, the judgment also compared South Korean and Hungarian family models. The representatives of the South Korean families argued that the structure of families in South Korea differs significantly: they live in larger family units and with closer relationships than in Hungary. This has significant implications for compensation, as the court determines compensation amounts based on the degree of kinship. However, the court considered not only this but also how close each family member genuinely was to the deceased. Having heard from over seventy South Korean relatives, the judge saw no significant difference between Korean and Hungarian family models. The compensation decision was also influenced by the fact that among the claimants, several had lost multiple family members in the 2019 tragedy.

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