A court in Zhengzhou, Henan province, has overturned a decision ordering a doctor to compensate the family of an elderly man who died after a quarrel over smoking in an elevator.
The doctor, identified only as Yang, was told to pay 15,000 yuan (S$3,084) in damages in September after the city's Jinshui district court ruled he should "share the loss" from the death.
Yang got into a heated exchange with the deceased, surnamed Duan, on May 2 in a residential community elevator after he asked the elderly man to stop smoking. Shortly after, Duan suffered a fatal heart attack.
Duan's wife, surnamed Tian, filed a lawsuit accusing the doctor of causing her husband's death. The district court based its ruling on article 24 of Tort Law, which states that "both parties should share the loss when neither can take sole blame for the loss".
However, the Zhengzhou People's Intermediate Court said on Tuesday it had overturned the decision－after an appeal filed by Tian.
The court issued a notice on Sina Weibo that said the original ruling was inappropriate because the article cited would only apply if Yang's behaviour had caused the smoker's death.
Surveillance footage from the elevator shows that the quarrel between Yang and Duan was only verbal and no physical confrontation was spotted.
Yang remained relatively "calm and restrained" during the five-minute conflict, whereas Duan was in a state of "excitement" and his emotions became increasingly unstable as time passed, the court said.
Yang did not leave until the community's property management officer intervened. Duan went to the property management office before having a heart attack, it said.
Liu Lin, a lawyer from Beijing Shuangli Law Firm, said the previous ruling was based on the facts but used an inappropriate legal clause, and the second ruling was "fair and square".
"The causal relationship exists only when Yang's behaviour directly leads to Duan's death, which is not true in this case," he said.
According to Zhengzhou's regulations prohibiting smoking in public places, smoking is prohibited in elevators and citizens are entitled to stop smokers in public places.