Safety must be the top priority in building construction, vice president-elect William Lai (賴清德) said yesterday after the Tainan District Court ordered NT$730 million (US$24.37 million) in compensation be paid to 170 residents and surviving family members of the Weiguan Jinlong (維冠金龍) complex, which collapsed following a 2016 earthquake.
Tainan Mayor Huang Wei-che (黃偉哲) hailed the ruling as a successful class-action lawsuit, which together with an earlier ruling for punitive punishment brought the total compensation for the victims to more than NT$800 million.
That is the highest amount ever awarded in a civil class-action lawsuit in Taiwan, he said.
The Weiguan Jinlong complex fell after a magnitude 6.4 quake rocked southern Taiwan, with its epicenter in Kaohsiung’s Meinong District (美濃), on Feb. 6, 2016, killing 115 people.
The court ordered five defendants, Lin Ming-hui (林明輝), former chairman of the now-defunct Weiguan Co; company architects Chang Kui-pao (張魁寶) and Cheng Chin-kui (鄭進貴); company designer Hung Hsien-han (洪仙汗) and Da Ho Infrastructure Construction structural engineer Cheng Tung-hsu (鄭東旭) and Da Ho to pay the compensation.
“We hope the case can restore some justice to the victims and their families, and that companies should learn a lesson — that they have responsibility to society, and must make safety their top priority when constructing buildings. This kind of tragedy must not happen again,” said Lai, who was mayor of Tainan at the time of the quake.
Lai supervised the city’s rescue and relief efforts, and he also coordinated the building of a new apartment complex at the site to house the survivors and family members of the victims.
Huang said that while the compensation order would punish the defendants, it “cannot compensate for the pain and mental anguish the victims had suffered.”
The Consumers’ Foundation had filed the case on behalf of 170 residents and surviving family members, the mayor said.
Yang Ning-ting (楊寧廷), who heads the association to rebuild housing for victims, said: “The residents lost many of their loved ones, so any amount of compensation cannot address such painful loss, or the injuries suffered by the survivors.”
The most serious injured of the survivors was Hung Chia-yi (洪家益), who almost died after he was pulled from the rubble, and had to have both legs amputated and spent nearly a year in a hospital afterward.
“The compensation money is just a number, even if the defendants had to pay NT$50 billion, it is not sufficient, given the suffering and bodily harm that was caused,” Hung said. “I cannot get back to the life I had before.”
The court ruling said the defendants were deemed liable because they were in charge of the project, which had been poorly designed, but then they altered the design and the construction process to save money, skimmed funds and took shortcuts by using inferior materials, all of which affected the complex’s structural integrity.
The complex’s building designs were largely the responsibility of Lin and Hung, while Chang and Cheng Chin-kui oversaw the construction and Cheng Tung-hsu was responsible for designing the complex’s structure, the ruling said.
The ruling can be appealed.
All five are currently serving five-year prison terms after the High Court in July 2017 found them guilty of professional negligence resulting in multiple deaths.
Lin began his sentence the following September 2017, while the other four were incarcerated in March last year after the Supreme Court rejected their appeals.
The class-action suit had sought NT$3.5 billion in compensation.
Thursday’s ruling is one of five civil suits the five defendants and Da Ho face over the 16-story building’s collapse.
The replacement complex is scheduled to be completed in April next year.
Additional reporting by CNA
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