According to a recent survey conducted by the Seoul Bar Association, most Korean lawyers are in favor of amendments to Korean law to allow for the award of punitive damages by Korean courts. Of the 1545 respondents who participated in the survey, 92% (1417) were of the opinion that the Korean legal system ought to provide for the ordering of punitive damages.
In many overseas jurisdictions, including the United States, England & Wales, Australia, and New Zealand, punitive damages – otherwise known as “exemplary damages” – may be ordered by a court where compensatory damages are deemed an inadequate remedy. Awarded only in special, or highly exceptional cases – cases usually involving negligence where the defendant has acted intentionally or with subjective recklessness – the imposing of punitive damages is intended to send a strong message, designed to both punish the defendant and deter others from engaging in similar conduct.
Thus, in principle, punitive damages are an exception to the rule that damages are to compensate rather than to punish or generate a windfall for a plaintiff that is unrelated to the damage or injury actually suffered by the plaintiff.
It is of no coincidence that the Seoul Bar Association survey comes at a time of ongoing high-profile corporation investigations in Korea, such as the Oxy Reckitt Benckiser Korea toxic humidifier probe, and investigation into Japanese automaker Nissan Korea’s alleged emission fraud.
According to the Korea Bizwire report on the findings of the Seoul Bar Association survey, of those lawyers in favor of an introduction of punitive damages into the Korean legal system, 56 percent (792) were of the view that punitive damages should be implemented only “as a form of a special law, exclusive to corporate environmental abuses and defective products” whilst 39 percent (546) consider that punitive damages should be implemented “for all areas of damages.”
The survey, also, found widespread support by Korean lawyers for development of Korean law to allow for consumer class action lawsuits. Currently, the Korean legal system provides, under its Consumer Act, only for the bringing of a legal action by a qualified consumer group or organisation, against a company – not for the bringing of such a claim directly by claimants.