Army must pay B17m to family of drowned soldier

Army must pay B17m to family of drowned soldier

Family members of Sub Lt Sanan Thongdeenok hold a photo of their loved one, who drowned during a military training in 2015. The courts have awarded them about 17 million baht in total compensation. (Photo: Cross Cultural Foundation Facebook page)
Family members of Sub Lt Sanan Thongdeenok hold a photo of their loved one, who drowned during a military training in 2015. The courts have awarded them about 17 million baht in total compensation. (Photo: Cross Cultural Foundation Facebook page)

The Supreme Court has ordered the Royal Thai Army to pay compensation plus interest, in total about 17 million baht, to the family of a junior officer who drowned during training in 2015.

The ruling was read out at the Civil Court on Ratchadapisek Road on Tuesday.

It instructed the army to compensate the two plaintiffs, Wan Thongdeenok and Thanyarat Wansathit, the mother and wife of the deceased, to the tune of 11.8 million baht plus 6 million baht in interest accumulated over the past seven years.

The plaintiffs filed a lawsuit with the Civil Court in 2016 after Sub Lt Sanan Thongdeenok drowned during a swimming test as part of the training curriculum for the Ultimate King’s own Bodyguard Team.

Every trainee must participate in the test, supervised by army officers. Sanan was forced to swim back and forth in the pool, more than 10 laps, before he drowned due to fatigue. The trainer reportedly failed to provide a prompt rescue.

The Civil Court and the Appeal Court decided in the plaintiffs' favour in 2020, but the army submitted a final appeal to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court ruled that the trainer had forced the soldier to continue beyond reasonable limits, as he had clearly shown signs of fatigue and was unable to keep swimming.

That action pointed to negligence in breach of safety rules for trainees, which could not be ignored and those responsible must be held accountable. Hence, the defendant was liable under section 5 of the  Liability for Wrongful Acts of Officials Act (1996).

The court also agreed with the Civil and Appeal Courts regarding funeral costs, as the plaintiffs had to fund funeral rites twice in response to autopsy requests, as well as paying other expenses - including flowers, food, beverages and the transferral of the body - despite them having no receipts to confirm the funeral costs.

In addition, as Sanan could have lived until 85 according to the average male life expectancy, the two plaintiffs were deprived of their breadwinner. This was also taken into account when assessing the damages.

Besides the salary received from his military service, the deceased also helped his wife run a dog breeding business. As such, his death also deprived the household of this income.

The defendant must comply with the court’s decision within 30 days or face further legal action, it said.

Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, director of the Cross Cultural Foundation, reacted to the case by saying the army should review its training curriculum as it could cause physical and mental damage, as shown by similar complaints that had previously made headlines.

The army must also come up with measures to guard against such incidents in future, and proceed with disciplinary punishment and criminal cases against any officers who commit such offences.

Ms Pornpen made the point that it is still a huge challenge for people to seek action in military courts. 


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