1. High Court Decisions Affirmed
Q1. Which parts of the court decisions are affirmed?
Decision is affirmed and final for 262 plaintiffs, the 111 plaintiffs of Group A (namely spouses and children of deceased former RCA workers) and 151 plaintiffs of Group B (namely former RCA workers who have been diagnosed with grave illnesses). They are rewarded with different amounts in compensation by the Taiwan High Court Decision of October 27, 2017.
Q2. Whom are ordered to pay the compensation in the finalized parts of this verdict?
RCA in Taiwan and its three parent companies, General Electric Company of the United States, Technicolor (formerly known as Thomson Consumer Electronics S.A.) of France and Thomson Consumer Electronics (Bermuda), Ltd. of Bermuda.
Q3. What are the reasons for GE, Technicolor, and Thomson (Bermuda) to be found jointly liable for the workers’ damages?
The 3 companies are all de facto controlling companies of RCA in Taiwan. They had clear knowledge about the pollution. Yet, instead of seeking to remedy the pollution or to inform the RCA workers about it, they tried to evade responsibility by covering up evidences and maliciously transfer assets abroad in order to evade their debts. Therefore, the “piercing the corporate veil” principle should be applied, and the three companies have to carry joint and several liability together with Taiwan RCA.
Q4. What are the reasons for the Court to find the defendants’ statutes of limitation defense constitutes an “abuse of rights”?
(1) Central to this case is massive occupational injury caused by chronic, continuous exposure to chemical substances. Exposing workers to such chemical substances is tortious act of the defendants. However, all evidences regarding chemicals used at the workplace and workers’ exposure to them are all in the hands of RCA and its parent companies.
(2) The specific character of physical damages caused by chronic chemical exposure is that the causation cannot be determined without adequate research in epidemiology and other scientific fields. Because it is so difficult for individual workers to fulfill the burden of proof in such case, it is therefore not reasonable to expect such persons to exercise their right to litigate as timely as in other tort cases. The workers should not be judged as “persons who let their rights fall asleep.”
(3) RCA in Taiwan and its three parent companies failed to fulfill their duty of care toward workers’ health and safety. They failed to inform the plaintiffs about the chemical exposure. They hid evidences. They tried to evade liability by capital reduction and transfer assets abroad. They refused to provide data according to the demand of Taiwan EPA’s special investigative team. RCA’s refusal to provide its operational data resulted in the lack of essential data for the epidemiologists who tried to study health effects of organic solvents in RCA’s workplace on workers. This, in turn, hampered the victim’s effort to seek legal redress for their health damages. When the debtor is culpable for the creditor’s failure to claim a debt in time, the debtor’s statute of limitation defense constitute an “abuse of rights” and the debtor cannot be allowed to refuse debt payment on this ground.
Q5. What standards does the Court hold on “causation” and “burden of proof” in this case? What are the reasons?
(1) In cases of massive occupational injury caused by exposure to chemical substances, such as this one, the victim’s burden of proof should be deemed fulfilled, when she/he can prove, regarding the hazardous substances, the tortious acts, the process of such acts, the pattern of damages and so on, to the degree that a reasonable degree of probability exists, linking the tortious acts and the victim’s damage. At this point, it can be presumed that both general causation and specific causation exist. In order to be judged not liable, the defendants need to prove that otherwise, such causations does not exist.
(2) Litigations about massive occupational injury caused by chronic exposure to chemical substances share the common characters of collectiveness, continuity, and technology-intensive. It often takes time for evidences to accumulate, and for the fact that such incidences have happened or become largely visible. Many uncertainties can obscure causation in this context.
In addition, victims in such litigations tend to be disadvantaged in economic power and specialized knowledge vis-a-vis the culpable corporations. If the court requires the victim to carry the burden of proof to the degree traditionally required of a plaintiff in a common tort case, the requirement would obviously exceeds her/his financial and knowledge capacities, and it would be unequitable. Naturally there is a need to adjust the burden of proof.
2. High Court Decisions Revoked
Q6. Which parts of the High Court Verdict are revoked? What are the reasons?
(1) High Court decision on the 226 Group C plaintiffs are revoked. Group C consists of plaintiffs who have not yet been diagnosed with serious diseases, or those whose diagnosed diseases are not consistent with findings by IARC, USEPA, or CDC, or those whose durations of exposure are deemed too short to cause serious diseases.
The High Court recognized those who are categorized into Group C as persons who have not developed diseases caused by the exposure. Yet the High Court awarded compensation for emotional distress to them without adequately explaining what kind of health damages these plaintiffs have suffered. The reason for the Group C decision is not satisfactory to the requirement of the law.
The High Court categorized workers suffering from self-immune syndromes and systemic lupus erythematosus into Group A and B respectively. However, plaintiffs who are similarly suffering from immune diseases such as systemic sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and Sjögren's syndrome are categorized as Group C. These inconsistencies show that specific criteria used to determine Group C plaintiffs, and reasons for such criteria, are not clear. This court cannot make a judgment on matters of law without the lower court making clear determination on the matters of fact.
Several plaintiffs are “demoted” into Group C by the High Court because the Court could not determine the authenticity of the proof of diagnosis provided by the plaintiffs. Without investigating their medical histories through records in the National Health Insurance System, this decision by the High Court seems too rash.
(2) High Court Decision on the 3 deceased plaintiffs whose powers of attorney or written authorization to the RCA Employee’s Care Association have not expressly show their intention to delegate their right to litigate to the Association.
Since the three persons have signed powers of attorney or written authorization to the Association before they died in order for this litigation to proceed. Whether this constitute expressed intention should be explained by the High Court, not dismissed out of hand.
(3) High Court Decision on the 8 plaintiffs whose death certificate cannot be authenticated
History of two former RCA workers’ disease and cause of death can be found in the Major Illnesses Database of the National Health Insurance Administration and the Cancer Registry of the Health Promotion Administration. The High Court did not make full use of such information to investigate the fact. Instead, it simply found unfavorably for the plaintiffs for reasons that their medical history and cause of death cannot be found by inquiring their clinics or local health center. This falls short of the duty of the High Court.
(4) High Court Decision on 3 plaintiffs about an undetermined cause of death
One of the founding members of the Former RCA Workers’ Care Association went to China after this lawsuit was filed and soon afterward died in Xiamen City of undetermined cause. He was survived by 3 heirs who joined the Association after his death. Whether the heirs can inherit the claim filed by the deceased or claiming on their own rights is something to be investigated, and should not be dismissed out of hand.
(5) High Court Decision on 6 plaintiffs whose diagnosed illnesses are not consistent with findings by IARC, USEPA, and CDC
The High Court dismissed the claim of 6 heirs to 2 workers who died of ovary cancer and endometrial cancer by simply stating that these cancers are not consistent with findings of IARC, USEPA, and CDC on probable health damages to exposure to the 31 chemicals found at RCA. The High Court did not state why this constitutes the ground for “demoting” them to Group C.