Landmark Victories for the Asbestos-Injured
In December 2007, judicial victories for asbestos victims in Korea and South Africa were announced. On December 4, the first court ruling in Korea to award compensation for an asbestos-related death was made by a local court in Daegu District, Seoul. An asbestos cloth-making company in Busan was ordered to pay 130 million South Korean Won (US$140,000) to the family of deceased worker Ms. Won, who it had employed from 1976-78. Ms. Won died from mesothelioma in October 2006, two years after having been diagnosed with the disease. Judge Kim Se-jong found the defendant to be negligent and said:
The company was well aware of the possible danger of asbestos. But it neither provided masks, gloves, or other protective gear to its workers, nor established ventilation facilities.1
Speaking about the verdict, a representative of the Daegu Federation for Environmental Movements said that 46 Koreans have died from asbestos-related diseases in the last 7 years;2 he predicted that this case was the first of many which will be brought against asbestos companies which opened in Korea in the 1960s. These comments and news of the judgment received widespread media coverage.3
Also in December, news was circulated of record compensation payouts for the families of deceased mesothelioma victims, Ken Krieger and Terry Cowan, both of whom had worked as air-conditioning contractors for Standard Bank in Durban. Like hundreds of fellow workers at Standard House in the 1970s, they had been exposed to asbestos in insulation sprayed onto the steel frame of the building during its construction. 4 A friend of Mr. Cowan reported:
When we opened the (ceiling) tiles, the asbestos would fall all over us and the workers sitting beneath us in the offices. It would be like white powder falling over everyone None of us wore goggles or masks. We knew about the asbestos, but in those days we didn't know its dangers.
January 9, 2008
1 Rahn K. Asbestos Damage Recognized. The Korea Times. December 12, 2007.
2 South Korean Court Awards Compensation to Asbestos Victim's Family in Landmark Ruling. December 5, 2007. http://www.allheadlinenews.com/articles/7009363250