The Supreme Court yesterday upheld a previous ruling and ordered Radio Corp of America (RCA) and its affiliates to pay NT$564.45 million (US$18.3 million at the current exchange rate) to 262 of its former Taiwanese employees and affected family members.
It referred another group of 246 plaintiffs to the Taiwan High Court for a retrial.
In earlier rulings on the case, the US company was found liable for the cancer and illnesses its employees contracted while handling organic solvents, which were later found to be carcinogenic, at the RCA factory in then-Taoyuan county.
Investigators also found that toxic waste was dumped around the factory, contaminating soil and underground water.
More than 200 employees have since died.
After the ruling, the RCA Self-Help Association, which is made up of former RCA employees and deceased workers’ family members, vowed to keep fighting, saying that they would not compromise on their demands.
Association leaders, who were joined by supporters and lawyers from the Legal Aid Foundation, said that the court-ordered figure did not meet their expectations, and they considered the retrial for 246 of the plaintiffs a setback.
“We do not know why the judges rejected compensation for the 246 plaintiffs, but we will continue the legal battle and will never compromise in our fight for justice,” RCA Self-Help Association president Liu Ho-yun (劉荷雲) said.
“We did not lose, and in a way, we did win, but the result was far from what we expected,” she said.
Liu said that the association has filed another lawsuit with the Taipei District Court on behalf of another 1,142 former employees and family members who are seeking compensation of NT$7.3 billion.
According to information from the association, more than 1,300 former RCA employees have been diagnosed with cancer, while 221 of them have died from cancer and related illnesses.
RCA opened its Taoyuan factory in 1970, under its subsidiary RCA Taiwan Ltd. The factory produced electronic appliances and parts for television sets.
It used more than 30 types of organic solvents, including trichloroethylene and tetracholorethene, which are classified as Group 2A carcinogens by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.
RCA ran several other plants in Taiwan from 1970 to 1992.
The company was in 1986 taken over by General Electric Co (GE), which later sold it to Thomson Consumer Electronics, the US subsidiary of France-based Thomson Multimedia, now called Technicolor SA.
The association filed the lawsuit in 2004, and it has since become one of the nation’s longest-running legal battles between a corporation and its employees.
Environmental groups and labor activists have described the contamination at the RCA factory as the worst industrial disaster in Taiwan’s history.
Yesterday’s decision came after a ruling by the Taiwan High Court in October last year, which ordered RCA, GE, Technicolor and Thomson to pay NT$718.4 million in compensation to the affected employees and their families.
In their ruling yesterday, judges reiterated that medical experts had testified that the incidence of cancer among former employees was up to 30 times higher than in the general population.
Judges said that the defendants had deliberately transferred a large portion of their assets out of Taiwan to reduce their financial liability when GE sold RCA to Thomson Consumer Electronics in 1988.
After the sale, it was found that executives transferred US$150 million into overseas bank accounts.
After the contamination was reported at the Taoyuan site in 1991, the company sold the building and land for about NT$1.9 billion the following year.
“RCA and its affiliated companies did not properly protect the safety and health of their workers. They did not inform them about the danger and toxic nature of the chemical substances used, and even tried to cover up and conceal evidence,” the ruling statement said. “Investigations found that the companies were deliberately deceitful ... and refused to provide information to the Environmental Protection Administration, which hindered the victims’ compensation claims.”
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