Former Samsung workers lose suit for benefits

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Former Samsung workers lose suit for benefits

Three former employees of Samsung Electronics suffering from leukemia and lymphoma lost their case at the Supreme Court after suing the Korea Workers’ Compensation and Welfare Service (Kcomwel) for survivor benefits.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld the lower court’s ruling on the former employees’ original verdicts in their first and second trials, which said, “it is hard to determine that the employees contracted illnesses due to constant exposure to harmful chemicals.”

The three former employees, one of whom died from leukemia, all worked in Samsung Electronics for years before being diagnosed with their illnesses. When Kcomwel, which is run by the Ministry of Employment and Labor, refused to provide survivor or bereaved family benefits, they and their family sued.

One of the three plaintiffs, Hwang Min-woong, worked at a semiconductor plant of Samsung Electronics from 1997 to 2004, and his main job was to cut, bend and shape products and their parts. He was diagnosed in 2005 with acute myeloid leukemia, or a cancer in the myeloid line of blood cells, whereby white blood cells spike in number and accumulate in the bone marrow. Hwang died that year.

When Hwang’s wife requested a bereaved family’s benefit, Kcomwel refused, saying it “cannot prove that Hwang’s work caused his leukemia.” She sued the organization in 2008, reportedly arguing Hwang’s constant exposure to silica and other materials led to his illness. Two other plaintiffs, a 47-year-old Kim Eun-kyung and another former employee named Song Chang-ho, are also battling illnesses at this moment. Kim worked from 1991 to 1996 at Samsung Electronics, in a semiconductor plant. Kim, too, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in 2005. Song worked from 1993 to 1998 at a plating industry complex in Samsung Electronics, and was diagnosed with a malignant case of lymphoma in 2008.

Both Kim and Song sued Kcomwel with Hwang’s wife.

While the Supreme Court ruled against the three plaintiffs, it ruled in favor of two others, who had also filed a lawsuit against Kcomwel when it refused to provide survivor benefits. The court determined it was “probable that a link exists between the harmful chemicals and radiation at the employees’ stations and their illnesses.” Their second trial had handed out the same ruling, after which the Kcomwel abandoned its appeal. One of the plaintiffs granted a favorable ruling by the Supreme Court was Hwang Yu-mi, whose case first grabbed the public eye in March 2007 when Hwang, an employee at Samsung’s semiconductor plant in Giheung, Gyeonggi, died of leukemia at the age of 23.

Since the early 2000s, Samsung employees, most working at semiconductor plants, have filed some 10 lawsuits against Samsung over what they claimed to be the breakout of work-related leukemia. Most cases have been resolved via direct compensation and agreement deals between employees and Samsung.

BY ESTHER CHUNG, YOON HO-JIN [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]

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