Oxy finalizes its compensation plan, which will not cover half of all victims

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Oxy finalizes its compensation plan, which will not cover half of all victims

Oxy Reckitt Benckiser, the British-controlled company that allegedly killed and sickened some 180 people with its fatal humidifier sterilizers, finalized its compensation plan and announced Monday it is accepting applications for compensations from the victims of its humidifier sterilizer.

The compensation plan will provide at least 150 million won ($135,460) to each victim of the Oxy-brand humidifier sterilizer or to those who used, in addition to Oxy’s, humidifier sterilizers made by other companies.

“Victims suffering from a mild case of pulmonary illness will be granted 150 million won for their emotional and psychological distress,”

said Seo Hyun-jeong, a public relations manager at Oxy Reckitt Benckiser. “And victims who died from or are suffering a severe case of pulmonary illness will be granted 350 million won for their emotional and psychological distress.”

Seo added, “And that is just one category within the compensation plan. Victims will receive further compensation for former and future expected medical expenses, losses in employment profits, legal fees and more, in amounts determined via case-by-case reviews.”

For victims under 19 years of age who died from or are suffering a severe pulmonary illness, the company will provide 1 billion won.

“For young victims currently hospitalized and or suffering from severe pulmonary illness,” Seo said, “the company will cover their lifetime medical bills.”

Oxy Reckitt Benckiser also announced new details to its finalized compensation plan, compared to its initial details revealed earlier in June, which entail an additional 50 million won to be provided to each family with more than two victims, and a measure by which 50 million won will be offered in advance to victims who need financial compensation as soon as possible.

The application materials can be found at the company’s website and applications can be submitted for the next six months online via e-mail or through fax and mail to the company. Oxy Reckitt Benckiser’s team of 35 employees will be constantly on call to answer victims’ questions and to review their applications.

“We hope the compensation plan that reflects the situations and input of … victims and families will provide some remedy for the pain and suffering they have endured,” said Ataur Rashid Safdar, CEO of Oxy Reckitt Benckiser. “We once again express our heart-felt apology for the pain and suffering caused by the humidifier sterilizer issue and pledge to try our best to lessen the resentment in the minds of the victims and their families.”

Some victims bristled at the plan, saying it has been crafted in a one-sided manner by the company and that it only compensates some of the victims.

The compensation plan is only offered to victims certified by the government as first-degree and second-degree victims in its two epidemiological surveys.

After the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention linked pulmonary illnesses and deaths to humidifier sterilizers in 2011, the government conducted two epidemiological tests from 2013 to 2015, ranking victims based on the extent to which their pulmonary fibrosis or illness was caused by humidifier sterilizer use.

Individuals are ranked as first-degree and second-degree victims when their epidemiological tests and biopsies reveal a clear or high causal relation between their pulmonary fibrosis and their use of humidifier sterilizers.

They are ranked as third-degree and fourth-degree victims when the government has confirmed their exposure to sterilizers but cannot determine a direct link between their health issues and the sterilizers.

“The government ranked victims in 2013 as a measure to compensate those in immediate need first,” said Kang Chan-ho, head of a victims’ group. “Oxy Reckitt Benckiser’s decision to follow the government compensation standards means it is avoiding taking full responsibility for what happened.”

Oxy-brand humidifier sterilizers reportedly caused the highest number of deaths among humidifier sterilizer manufacturers. It contains a toxic chemical polyhexamethylene guanidine (PHMG) that can be fatal to humans when inhaled.

“Some families do not want to deal with what happened anymore,” said Choi Seung-woon, head of another victims’ group. “Oxy Reckitt Benckiser knows more families are growing impatient and it is trying to take advantage of that through case-by-case compensation plans.”

In the first two rounds of epidemiological tests, 309 out of 530 cases were determined by health authorities to be third-degree and fourth-degree victims. But even though they make up more than half the victims, these cases have so far been excluded from all compensation plans.

“The third-degree and fourth-degree victims are not yet included in our compensation plan,” Seo said. “The company will be discussing their compensation plan with government agencies in the near future.”

BY ESTHER CHUNG, SUNG HWA-SUN, KIM NA-HAN [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]

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