Remand in High Court:
The firm violated workers’ right to bodily integrity when it exposed them to toxins, even in cases when they did not fall ill, the judge ruled.
The Supreme Court on Friday ruled in favor of 222 former Radio Corp of America (RCA) employees who were exposed to cancer-causing chemicals, overturning a 2020 lower court ruling denying their damages claims. it was done.
The Supreme Court referred the matter back to the High Court, saying that exposure to toxic chemicals may infringe on the constitutional rights of the appellants, even if a causal relationship with the disease has not been established.
Separately, the Supreme Court upheld a High Court ruling from March 2020 that awarded NT$54.7 million (US at current exchange rate) to 24 other plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit brought by former RCA employees and relatives of the deceased. $1.93 million) was awarded. Injured workers against RCA, its parent company and successor entities in 2004.
The High Court ruled in 2020 that 24 plaintiffs were entitled to compensation for exposure to toxic chemicals that sickened thousands of RCA workers at a factory in Taoyuan operated by RCA from 1970 to 1992.
However, the trial court denied damages to 222 others, saying they either did not prove that the chemicals caused their condition or that they had no obvious outward signs of illness.
Supreme Court Justice Cao Meng-hun (高孟焄) said on Friday that the high court’s decision was “problematic” and “controversial”.
The High Court had ruled that the plaintiffs should be relieved of the burden of proof, but still denied damages on the basis of their failure to establish a causal relationship between their illness and the chemicals, she said.
He said that the Constitution guarantees the right to physical integrity and health, and violation of this right does not result in diseases that can be diagnosed or require medical treatment.
Cao said that exposing someone to highly toxic chemicals, which results in a higher risk of getting sick and causes stress for those who are exposed, could be a violation of their constitutional rights.
Cao said employers are obliged to protect the health of their employees in the workplace, but former RCA employees were provided with toxic drinking water at the Taoyuan factory and exposed to harmful substances.
He said the High Court had failed to take into account the psychological effects of workers due to exposure to toxic substances.
RCA operates three major plants in Taiwan – in Taoyuan, Hsinchu and Yilan.
About 80,000 workers were employed at the three sites.
RCA was acquired by the American conglomerate General Electric (GE) in 1986, which two years later sold the Taoyuan factory to Thomson Consumer Electronics, a US-based subsidiary of French firm Technicolor, before becoming an electronic Move the production of products to China.
Thomson found serious pollution at the Taoyuan factory in 1989 and closed it a year later. Some of the factory workers had by then been diagnosed with cancer, which was suspected to be caused by exposure to toxic chemicals.
In 1998, some of them set up a self-help organization to demand compensation through legal channels, triggering years of lawsuits involving nearly 2,000 plaintiffs.
Investigators found the firm responsible for the workers’ illnesses, including cancer, saying they were caused by exposure to about 30 types of organic solvents, including the carcinogen trichloroethylene.
It was also found that the company was dumping toxic waste near its factory, thereby contaminating the soil and ground water.
Joseph Lin (林永頌), a lawyer who led a group of volunteer lawyers involved in the trial, said a review by the high court, starting with Friday’s ruling, could take months or even years.
However, Lin said he was optimistic that his side would win and that the 222 plaintiffs would get their due compensation.
In a separate class suit against RCA and three of its partners – GE, Thomson Consumer Electronics (Bermuda) and Technicolor – in December 2019 the Taipei District Court ruled in favor of 1,115 plaintiffs, awarding them a total of NT$2.3 billion.
However, that decision has been appealed and the high court is expected to deliver the verdict next month.
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