Water company must pay W352M in damages

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Water company must pay W352M in damages

The Daegu District Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs on Sunday in a class-action suit against the water authority for a supply interruption that occurred in 2011.

The Korea Water Resources Corporation must now pay 20,000 won ($18) in compensation for each of the 17,642 plaintiffs affected by the outage in North Gyeongsang.

During the incident, 160,000 households in Gumi, Gimcheon and Chilgok County were left without water for up to five days in one of the worst outages in recent history.

The cause of the problem was determined to be the collapse of a temporary levee constructed adjacent to the Nakdong River basin, which was dredged for several meters as part of the Lee Myung-bak administration’s four-rivers restoration project underway at the time.

Emergency measures to restore the levee took several days while thousands of households were left without water.

Because of the large number of affected parties, the Daegu District Court picked 10 Gumi residents from the Wonpyeong neighborhood to represent all households. A separate case with 153,965 plaintiffs is still pending in the country system.

Gyeongbuk Samil Law Office, a local law firm, was reportedly flooded with requests from residents seeking damages.

“Those wishing to file complaints crowded our office, and it took over a month just to register their names,” said Baek Young-ki, a lawyer there.

In a series of public hearings, civic groups like the YMCA had decided to demand 30,000 won per person a day without water, but the court settled on a significantly lower amount.

“We have come to the conclusion that 20,000 won is appropriate considering the public nature of water service,” Judge Park Jae-hyung said in his opinion.

But civic groups said they felt the suit was still successful even though they were not awarded the amount that was originally requested to compensate for the period without water service.

“The main motivation for this lawsuit was not monetary,” said Lee Dae-sung, a director at Hope Solidarity. “Instead, we were aiming to hold public officials and the water-supply regulator accountable for their irresponsible actions in the run-up to the water stoppage and their response to the situation after it occurred.”

The Korea Water Resources Corporation had hired high-profile law firm Kim & Chang to represent it in one of the country’s largest class-action suits.

Should plaintiffs also emerge victorious in the second suit, which is still pending, the authority could be liable for 3.4 billion won in compensation.

The troubled state-run water regulator could end up paying much more in damage claims should more Gumi residents who were inconvenienced by the five-day water stoppage push forward with class-action suits.

By Kim Yun-ho [jkkang2@joongang.co.kr]
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