Sat, Aug 04, 2018 - Page 3 News List

Court upholds previous ruling in plasticizer case

FINAL VERDICT:The Consumers’ Foundation originally hoped for NT$7.87 billion in compensation, but after six years in court, 18 companies had to pay NT$3.95 million

By Jason Pan  /  Staff reporter

The Supreme Court yesterday rejected an appeal by the Consumers’ Foundation and upheld an earlier ruling by the Taiwan High Court that 18 companies should pay NT$3.95 million (US$128,639) in compensation to plaintiffs from the 2011 plasticizer additive scandal.

It was the third and final ruling on the case.

The result was a far cry from the original class-action lawsuit that the foundation filed in March 2012 on behalf of 569 individuals who said their health had been affected by plasticizer additives in food.

The foundation had initially sought NT$7.87 billion in compensation from 37 companies.

In the original litigation, the foundation focused on Yu Shen Chemical Co (昱伸香料有限公司) and Pin Han Perfumery Co (賓漢香料公司), the two main food additive supplier companies involved in the case, as well as 35 other food ingredient companies.

The two suppliers were accused of manufacturing and supplying clouding agents — additives to make processed food and beverages more appealing — containing di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) and diisononyl phthalate (DINP).

According to the Food and Drug Administration, DEHP and DINP can be used as industrial chemicals, but are banned as food additives, due their potential carcinogenic effects.

The companies used DEHP and DINP instead of palm oil as clouding agents, which helped keep costs down and improve profits, and also preserved their food products longer, experts said.

In 2012, the Supreme Court convicted Yu Shen owner Lai Chun-chieh (賴俊傑) and his wife, Chien Ling-yuan (簡玲媛), for breaching the Act Governing Food Safety and Sanitation (食品安全衛生管理法), as well as fraud. Lai and Chien were sentenced to 15 years and 12 years in prison respectively, and their company was fined NT$24 million.

In the same year, the High Court sentenced Pin Han Co owner Chen Che-hsiung (陳哲雄) and his wife, Wang Fen (王粉), to 13 years and 10 years in prison respectively, and their company was fined NT$5 million.

Chen died from cancer after that ruling, and his appeal was dismissed.

The class-action lawsuit spent six years in court, during which time the compensation was reduced to NT$2.4 billion.

In the first ruling on the case in 2013, the New Taipei City District Court ruled that 18 companies, including food and retail giant Uni-President Group (統一集團), as well as Yu Shen and Pin Han, should pay only NT$1.2 million in compensation to the plaintiffs.

Explaining its ruling, the court cited a manual from the Department of Health, which said that most plasticizers should be excreted out of the body through urine and feces, and would likely not pose much of a health risk.

The foundation appealed the decision to the High Court, and in 2016 the 512 plaintiffs who remained won additional compensation totaling NT$2.75 million, for a combined NT$3.95 million from 25 companies.

In yesterday’s ruling, the Supreme Court upheld the ruling, saying that the health of those who had consumed food products containing the banned plasticizers had suffered, but even if it was not serious enough to require medical treatment, the 18 companies should pay punitive damages and for the mental stress that the plaintiffs had experienced.

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