RCA assets enough to cover damages: officials
Investment regulators said yesterday that the Radio Corporation of America ( RCA) still has enough assets in Taiwan to cover the NT$560 million in damages awarded by a court to its former employees in a landmark class action against the now-defunct firm.
Officials from the Economics Ministry’s Investment Commission said RCA’s paid-in capital alone amounts to more than NT$1 billion.
The officials said the commission has not agreed to let RCA withdraw its investment from Taiwan, as the lawsuit and matters concerning the compensation have yet to be completed.
The defendants in the class action — namely RCA and the companies that have taken it over — could still appeal the verdict handed down by the Taipei District Court on Thursday.
The district court, concluding a decade-long lawsuit, ruled in favor of 445 former RCA workers and their families, determining that the company exposed the employees to toxic substances by illegally disposing of chemicals used at a Taoyuan plant.
Many of its former employees have contracted or died of cancer.
“I hope the government can show more concern to laborers,” said one of the lawyers, Lee Pinghung, representing the RCA employees in the class action. “We urge the defendants not to appeal against the verdict.”
Lee said the RCA case is the only lawsuit he has worked on since becoming a lawyer in the 2000s. He was the first ever blind person to pass the bar exam in Taiwan.
Lee said he feels honored to be able to play a part in the RCA case, and he has huge respect for his seriously ill clients who had to face critical questioning by the judges during the trial.
He said he was determined to help the plaintiffs after seeing how RCA and its co-defendants ignored them.
Lee was born blind but his parents managed to raise him as an “ordinary” child, who went on to finish university education, become a lawyer and also pass the civil service exam.
The plaintiffs have so far not made an official statement in response to the verdict, and it remains uncertain whether they will appeal to the high court.
RCA ran manufacturing operations in Taiwan between 1970 and 1992, employing thousands of workers at its plants in Taoyuan, Hsinchu and Yilan.
In 1998, the environmental authorities found that its former plant site in Taoyuan was seriously contaminated with chlorinated organic solvents and other toxic chemicals that the company had illegally dumped into wells it had dug.
The toxic water then contaminated tap water that workers consumed.
The 7.2-hectare plant site has to this day remained closed and unusable, despite efforts to clean the land.
RCA was bought by General Electric, and subsequently by Thomson Consumer Electronics, the U. S. subsidiary of Francebased Thomson Multimedia, which is now called Technicolor SA.
Lee Ping-hung, right, one of the attorneys who helped former RCA employees win a landmark class-action suit against the now-defunct company, speaks to the media in Taipei. The RCA lawsuit is the only case that this young lawyer has ever handled since becoming the nation’s first-ever blind attorney in the 2000s.