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Don Yoon, An Individual, and As Successor In Interest of Decedents Youngmi Lee Yoon v. United States of America

December 28, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Jeffrey T. Miller United States District Judge


On December 8, 2008, a United States Marine Corp F/A 18D Hornet fighter jet crashed into the family home of Don and Youngmi Lee Yoon located in University City, a community of San Diego, California. The crash incinerated the Yoon home and killed Youngmi Lee Yoon (36 years old); Grace Yoon (15 months old); Rachel Yoon (7 weeks old) and Seokim Kim-Lee (59 years old), the mother of Youngmi.

Don Yoon, husband of Youngmi and father of Grace and Rachel, was at work at the time of the crash. Ms. Kim-Lee was visiting from Korea, her country of origin and citizenship, and had been providing child care for Grace and Rachel.

Due to the negligence of military personnel, the United States admitted sole liability for the crash, fire, and deaths of those who perished. Plaintiffs in this action are Don Yoon, Sanghyun Lee, the husband of Seokim Kim-Lee, and the three surviving adult children of Ms. Kim-Lee: Yumi Lee, Baekgwan Lee and Jun Hwa Lee, respectively. Ms. Kim-Lee's mother, Yangrae Kook (89 at the time of her death in November, 2011) is also a named plaintiff with family members duly representing her interests. All plaintiffs seek compensation for non-economic losses. Plaintiffs Don Yoon and Sanghyun Lee also seek compensation for economic losses.

A three-day court trial pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act ("FTCA"), 28 U.S.C. §§2671-2680, began on December 12, 2011 and concluded on December 14, 2011 with the arguments of all parties. Plaintiffs have requested damages totaling approximately $56 million while the government has requested "fair and reasonable compensation" to be awarded without reference to any specific monetary sum(s).

After hearing testimony from all parties*fn1 and considering the arguments and relevant law, the court issues the following Statement of Decision.


The following summarizes the testimony of the witnesses presented at the time of the evidentiary hearing.

Sanghyun Lee

Sanghyun Lee, 67, was the first witness Plaintiffs called to testify. Mr. Lee and his wife, Seokim Kim-Lee (sometimes referred to as "Seokim"), had been married for 36 years at the time of the crash, the only marriage for either, and had raised their four children, Youngmi Yoon, Yumi Lee, Baekgwan Lee and Jun Hwa Lee in a rural village in the southwest countryside of South Korea. Seokim worked in a factory while Mr. Lee tended to his cattle and farmed.

Mr. Lee and Seokim were devoted to one another with "plans and dreams" that included additional travel and extended family activity and events. Mr. Lee has not done anything since the loss of Seokim and has "lost everything." He is alone and feels "unspeakably sad" at events such as family weddings.

Mr. Lee described the relationships between Seokim and their children as "so close," words "cannot express" his thoughts. Family was the most important thing for Seokim. Once Yumi left home for school and work, Seokim and Yumi would talk often by phone and Yumi would visit at least once per month. After Baekgwan left home for his studies in Seoul, Korea, he returned to live with his parents. Mr. Lee described Baekgwan as being so close to his mother, Seokim, Baekgwan had no desire to marry. Mr. Lee described the relationship of Jun Hwa, the youngest son, and Seokim in similar

Youngmi, being the oldest of the four Lee children, embraced the responsibility of helping to raise her younger siblings. Youngmi and Mr. Lee were close, and Youngmi attended a college only twenty minutes from home. This allowed Youngmi to live at home until the age of 23 when she graduated from college.

Once Youngmi moved to the United States and married Don Yoon, Mr. Lee and Youngmi would speak often via internet communication. Mr. Lee considered Don Yoon to be a good son-in-law who treated Youngmi very well. Youngmi repeatedly told Mr. Lee she was very happy in her marriage. Mr. Lee did not attend Youngmi's wedding in the United States because Youngmi told him another ceremony was planned in South Korea. The distance between Mr. Lee and Youngmi after Youngmi moved did not make their relationship "less" than it had been.

Photographs and video clips of Mr. Lee and his granddaughter, Grace, taken in South Korea when Youngmi and Don Yoon allowed Seokim to take Grace to South Korea for an extended visit, showed Grace to be happy while among her South Korean relatives.

On cross examination, Mr. Lee testified that after Youngmi graduated from college, she moved to Seoul, about 3 1/2 hours away, to begin her work in nursing at a university hospital. Youngmi never returned home to live with her parents thereafter. When Youngmi moved to the United States, it was against the wishes of her father.

Seokim first came to the United States in about July, 2007, just before Grace was born in August, 2007 and returned to South Korea six months later with Grace. Grace lived with Seokim and Mr. Lee for several months. Seokim then returned to the United States in December, 2008.

The mother of Seokim, Plaintiff Yangrae Kook ("Yangrae"), lived in South Korea with a daughter-in-law. Seokim and Mr. Lee would take vegetables to Yangrae, who received food from other sources as well. Yangrae received a government pension of approximately $90 per month which she used to help with her daughter-in-law's expenses. On occasion, Mr. Lee would drive Yangrae to a doctor's appointment. After the crash, Yangrae would receive vegetables and rides from Mr. Lee as before.

Baekgwan Lee

Baekgwan Lee ("Baekgwan"), the third oldest child of the four children of Seokim and Mr. Lee, testified that he and all his siblings graduated from college even though their parents did not attend college. Baekgwan is an electrical engineer who was living with his parents at the time of the crash.

Baekgwan described his mother, Seokim, as a very caring, considerate person, and as someone who would sacrifice everything for her family. Although they lived in a small town in the South Korean countryside, people would always gather at their home as people loved Seokim. People "envied" Baekgwan's parents and their relationship. Baekgwan's parents farmed and traveled together a lot. They loved each other.

Baekgwan married in April, 2010. His mother's absence at the wedding was difficult as she would have been the happiest of everyone. Seokim wanted Baekgwan to marry. Baekgwan misses his mother's warmth, advice, and just holding her.

Baekgwan has noticed that his father, Mr. Lee, smiles less and has stopped raising cows. He has lost his motivation to love. Before the crash, Baekgwan witnessed his father calling and skypeing often to Seokim and Youngmi.

Baekgwan observed Seokim help her mother, Yangrae, and give her money. Yumi Lee

Yumi Lee ("Yumi"), Youngmi's younger sister, and the second of the four children of Seokim and Mr. Lee, grew up in the Lee family home and went to college, which was unusual for rural women.

However, Seokim and Mr. Lee wanted to educate all their children; consequently, each of the children had to study and attend college. Youngmi paid the college tuition for all her siblings. Yumi lived in the family home until the age of 25. After Yumi married, she and her husband would visit her parents often, and Seokim would be waiting for them near the entrance to their village. The aromas of flowers and food would await their arrival at the Lee home.

Yumi and her older sister, Youngmi, went to school together. Youngmi worked at Sacred Heart Hospital of Han Lin University as a nurse in the psychiatric department. Youngmi provided medications and helped with the management of psychiatric patients by reading to them and through exercises. Youngmi also worked as a registered nurse in the OB/GYN department at Lee Young Sun hospital in areas of testing and diagnostics. Youngmi worked as a registered nurse for a total of ten years in South

Yumi herself worked as a nurse in clinical pathology in a hospital setting. Jun Hwa Lee

Jun Hwa Lee ("Jun Hwa") the youngest of the four Lee children, was nicknamed "baby boy" and was made to "feel special" by his mother, Seokim. At trial, Jun Hwa found it difficult to express in words his love for his mother.

Seokim instilled in Jun Hwa the four missions of a man: (1) education, which Jun Hwa met by studying mechanical engineering; (2) military service, which Jun Hwa performed; (3) a good job, which Jun Hwa acquired by working in subway maintenance management; and (4) to marry well, which Jun Hwa also accomplished. Jun Hwa lived at home with his parents until marrying at the age of 28.

Upon his mother's death, Jun Hwa lost the advice she would provide as well as the chance to fulfill his family duties to his mother. Jun Hwa ...

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