Court rules against Samsung in cancer cluster case

Posted on : 2011-06-24 13:49 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
The court says Samsung must recognize leukemia cases as industrial accidents
 June 23. (Photo by Kim Jung-hyo)
June 23. (Photo by Kim Jung-hyo)

By Hwang Chun-hwa 


A court ruled Thursday that cases of leukemia contracted by two former Samsung Electronics employees while working at its Samsung Semiconductors division should be recognized as industrial accidents.

In its ruling Thursday on a lawsuit filed against the Korea Workers’ Compensation and Welfare Service by three family members of workers who died of leukemia after working at Samsung Electronics and two workers currently fighting the disease, the 14th administrative division of Seoul Administrative Court, under Judge Jin Chang-su, acknowledged industrial accident status for two workers and overturned a ruling not to pay survivors’ benefits. The workers in question were the late Hwang Yu-mi and Lee Suk-yeong, respectively 23 and 30 at the time of their deaths.

This is the first administrative lawsuit filed by workers who contracted leukemia after working at Samsung Electronics, or by the family members of workers who died from the disease after working there.

In its ruling, the court said, “Even if the cause of the acute myeloid leukemia that occurred in the late Ms. Hwang has not been clearly ascertained in medical terms, it is possible to deduce that the leukemia arose or was expedited through her continued exposure to various hazardous chemicals while working on the No. 3 line at the Giheung workplace [semiconductor plant], and also through her exposure to ionizing radiation, albeit in very doses.”

“The court recognizes a substantial cause-and-effect relationship between her leukemia and her duties,” the court said.

The court determined that Hwang and the other parties were exposed to large amounts of hazardous chemicals such as benzene while engaged in “washing,” which involves dipping semiconductors into a chemical solution by hand to remove unnecessary parts. Also taken into account was the fact that the implant process, which involves the production of ionizing radiation, took place around 80 meters from the site where the individuals in question worked.

“While there have been research findings stating that it takes five or six years for leukemia to occur when a person has been exposed to excessive amounts of ionizing radiation, the possibility exists for individual differences,” the court said.

The court also said, “Even if the amount of exposure was below permitted levels, there is a possibility that the exposure of Ms. Hwang et al. to hazardous chemicals over a period of one year and eight months generated an interaction with ionizing radiation to cause leukemia.”

At the same time, the court did not accept the findings of an epidemiological study of the semiconductor plant stating that hazardous chemicals were below standard levels. In 2007, Samsung Electronics commissioned the Occupational Safety and Health Research Institute to conduct the study on the Giheung factory. The court determined that the study lacked persuasiveness because its measurements were conducted in a state differing from the ordinary environment.

But the court did not acknowledge a causal relationship for the remaining three workers, stating that “while their [temporary] exposure to hazardous chemicals or the possibility of their exposure is acknowledged, there is insufficient data to conclude that they were exposed continuously.”

Lee Jong-ran, a labor attorney with Banollim, which provided support for the plaintiffs in their suit, said, “Some of the people who filed this lawsuit lost their case, even when there was a great deal of evidence.”

“Such a large number of workers constitutes evidence, and I don‘t know what kind of further evidence has to be presented for [the court] to say it will acknowledge an industrial accident,” Lee added.

In an official press release, Samsung said, “Given that the ruling has not yet been confirmed, we will work so that apprehensions are alleviated through the ascertaining of the objective truth about the semiconductor working environment through the trial to continue going ahead.”

Samsung also said it plans to announce the findings of another investigation of the semiconductor work environment conducted by a “distinguished third party research institution overseas” as soon as they are released.


Please direct questions or comments to []