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(LEAD) Court again rules against family of wartime forced labor victim

All News 16:11 September 08, 2021

(ATTN: UPDATED throughout with ruling, reactions, background; ADDS photo)

SEOUL, Sept. 8 (Yonhap) -- A Seoul court on Wednesday again dismissed a damages suit filed by the bereaved family of a victim of World War II forced labor against a Japanese company citing expiration of the statute of limitations.

Four children of the late worker, surnamed Jeong, filed a suit in April 2019 seeking 200 million won (US$171,940) in compensation from Japan's Nippon Steel Corp.

Jeong had claimed he was conscripted to forced labor in a Nippon Steel plant in Japan from 1940-42. The Korean Peninsula was occupied by imperial Japan from 1910-45.

Judge Park Sung-in of the Seoul Central District Court ruled against the plaintiffs, saying the statute of limitations had passed in May 2015.

Representatives of the family of a victim of World War II forced labor, surnamed Jeong, speak to reporters at the Seoul Central District Court in Seoul on Sept. 8, 2021, after the court dismissed a damages suit filed by them against Japan's Nippon Steel Corp. (Yonhap)

Representatives of the family of a victim of World War II forced labor, surnamed Jeong, speak to reporters at the Seoul Central District Court in Seoul on Sept. 8, 2021, after the court dismissed a damages suit filed by them against Japan's Nippon Steel Corp. (Yonhap)

The same judge on Aug. 11 rejected a compensation suit filed by family members of a forced labor victim in February 2017 against Mitsubishi Materials Corp. on the same grounds.

The judge ruled that the statutes of limitations for the two cases should be seen as having begun with a Supreme Court ruling made on a similar case on May 2012, thus the plaintiffs' right to claim damages expired in May 2015.

According to civil law, the legal right to claim damages expires either 10 years after the harmful event occurs or three years after the aggrieved party discovers the harm and identifies the offender.

In the landmark ruling, the top court ordered a retrial of a case in which lower courts dismissed South Korean forced labor victims' damages claim against Nippon Steel and ruled that individuals' right to pursue reparations was not nullified by the two countries' 1965 agreement to normalize diplomatic ties.

The Supreme Court finalized the case on Oct. 30, 2018, upholding a lower court ruling for the company to compensate the victims, sparking bitter diplomatic feuds between the two neighboring countries.

But lower courts have since made mixed decisions on which of the two time points -- May 2012 and October 2018 -- should be used to calculate the statues of limitations.

In December 2018, an appeals court in the southern city of Gwangju ruled in favor of forced labor victims, judging the statutes of limitations for the wartime forced labor cases had been suspended until Oct. 3, 2018 and the three-year clock began ticking again with final Supreme Court ruling made on the day.

(LEAD) Court again rules against family of wartime forced labor victim - 2

"It is reasonable to say that factors that hindered the plaintiffs' exercise of rights had already been resolved by the May 24, 2012, Supreme Court ruling, not by the Oct. 30, 2018, ruling," Judge Park said in a verdict on Wednesday.

"Since the plaintiffs filed a lawsuit on April 15, 2019, three years after the Supreme Court ruling was made in May 2012, it is difficult to say that they filed a lawsuit within a due period for their exercise of rights."

Representatives of Jeong's family said they will decide whether to appeal after discussions with the plaintiffs.

An attorney said they had difficulty in proving harm inflicted on the late laborer because the Japanese company did not submit related records.

"How can children find the records about their father who was taken away 70 years ago? This is an unfair ruling," the lawyer said.
(END)

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