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Oxy compensates more victims

Consumer advocates accuse the company of staging a PR move
July 11,2017
Oxy Reckitt Benckiser, the British-controlled company that allegedly killed and sickened some 180 people with its fatal humidifier sterilizers, has devised another round of compensation for so-called first-degree and second-degree victims who suffered pulmonary illnesses and other complications from the chemical product.

The government identified the victims after conducting its third epidemiological test on the case in 2015. The compensation is identical to those given to victims from the first and second tests, including guarantee of lifelong financial support for treatment of pulmonary illnesses and other complications.

“The measure to provide lifelong support included consideration of special circumstances such as victims’ psychological trauma, illness and death of infants and children and severe lung damage,” the company said in a statement Monday.

Other details of the plan include indemnities for families that had multiple members affected by the company’s products, parents who suffered from the loss of children and financial support for legal costs borne by victims during disputes between August 2016 and March 2017.

Oxy’s final compensation plan for the third group of victims was devised after two discussions with first-degree and second-degree victims.

In the Oxy case, where victims unknowingly breathed toxic chemicals used to clean their humidifiers, individuals categorized as first-degree and second-degree victims are those whose epidemiological tests and biopsies have revealed a clear or high causal relation between their pulmonary complications and use of humidifier sterilizers.

Third-degree and fourth-degree victims are confirmed to have had exposure to sterilizers, but the government cannot determine a direct link between their health issues and the sterilizers.

Oxy’s compensation only applies to first-degree and second-degree victims.

The government has not yet fully released results from its third epidemiological test on the case, but it has revealed that 752 people requested a test, and 452 of them were examined. Among them, 57 were verified as first-degree and second-degree victims, and 52 said they used Oxy products. The other five said they used sterilizers from other manufacturers.

On Monday, protesters rallied outside Oxy’s office in Yeouido, western Seoul, insisting on heavier penalties for the company. Before the crisis, Oxy was the local leader in humidifier sterilizers, with a market share of 70 percent, and is known to have produced the most fatalities.

Consumer rights advocates have criticized the decision to restrict compensation to those verified as first-degree and second-degree victims. Kang Chan-ho, who leads a group of humidifier sterilizer victims and their families, accused the company of hastily putting together a half-baked plan, suggesting it was a PR move to improve their image 10 days before the appeal trial of several former Oxy executives, including CEO Shin Hyun-woo, set for July 21.

“The timing seems abrupt, considering how Oxy postponed compensation for victims from the third government test group for months,” Yonhap News Agency quoted him as saying on Monday.

The Oxy case goes back to 2011, when the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention linked a mass wave of pulmonary illnesses and deaths to humidifier sterilizers. Between 2013 and 2016, the government conducted four epidemiological tests to identify victims.

Last July, Oxy began compensating first-degree and second-degree victims from the first two tests, a total of 183 victims. Among them, 182 applied for compensation, and 162 have settled compensation with the company so far.

The size of compensation is expected to grow after results from the fourth test are scheduled for release by the first half of next year. More than 4,000 people are said to have applied for that test.


BY SONG KYOUNG-SON [song.kyoungson@joongang.co.kr]