Liquidated Damages v. Penalties in Korean contracts

As an American attorney, it’s a bit strange for me to read a Korean contract and see how the word “penalty” is used.  In the United States (as well as other common law jurisdictions), when a contract contains a “penalty,” the clause is invalidated. Korea, however, allows some “penalties” in contracts. Cutting to the chase, this is merely an issue of confusing and overlapping terminology.  But since its confusing, its worth explaining. To start with, a bit of background on liquidated damages.  Liquidated damages refer to damages, the amount of which, the parties designate during formation of a contract as compensation for non-breaching parties in the event of breach.   In the US and other common law jurisdictions, liquidated damages clauses are invalidated if the purpose is to punish the breaching party, rather than to compensate the injured party.  These clauses are referred to by the court as “penalties.” Now, contrary

Continue reading

Enforcing Punitive & Liquidated Damages Awards against Korean Companies via Contracts with Foreign Subsidiaries of Korean Companies

A recent amendment of the Korean Civil Procedure Act added Article 217-2.  The Amendment has codified a holding by the Seoul Central District Court and other Korean courts noting, in part, that Korean Courts may refuse to “recognize foreign damage awards that clearly exceed amounts considered reasonable in Korea in violation of good morals and the social order of Korea” (99 KaHap 14496, S. Cent. Distr. Court, 10/20/2000). The Amendment allows Korean Courts, in Korea, the power to not recognize a damage award that the Korean Court’s perceives as “excessive.”  This standard-less “standard” leaves much wiggle room for Korean Courts. A typical situation is a case where an American importer sues a Korean conglomerate in a U.S. Court and damages are awarded to the U.S. company.  The damages may include liquidated, punitive and non-“actual” damages.  The American importer, then, attempts to enforce the judgment in Korea. There is a simple

Continue reading

Injunctions Against your Former Franchisee for Competing Against your New Franchisee: Korean Franchise Law/Injunction Basics

Under the Fair Franchise Transactions Act of Korea (“Franchise Act”), a franchisee has the right, under Korean Law, to request the renewal of a Korean franchise agreement after ten years of successful operation of a franchise.  The Korean Franchise Act Article 13 (2) stipulates that: “A franchisee’s right to request the renewal of the franchise agreement may be exercised only when the total period of the franchise agreement, including its initial period, does not exceed ten years.” We wrote about termination of a franchise in other articles including: Termination of a Franchise in Korea. Courts in Korea are becoming increasingly apprehensive to enforce injunctions against operating of competing businesses filed by franchisors against franchisees.  The situation, often, occurs where a franchise is terminated and the franchisee operates a like business in the same location as the prior franchise.   Of course, all professionally drafted franchise agreements in Korea will have

Continue reading

Involuntary Dissolution of a Company in Korea: Shareholder Disputes in Korean Companies

Under Article 520 of the Korean Commercial Act, a minority shareholder, holding at least 10 percent of the total and outstanding shares of a Korean company, may request to the Korean court of competent jurisdiction the dissolution of a company in Korea.  Korean court judges consider this procedure an extraordinary procedure and, only, rule in the affirmative, usually, after all other avenues to resolve the shareholder dispute have failed. However, this procedure is useful, in many disputes, in resolution of the shareholder dispute via litigation or pushing the defaulting shareholder into a settlement. Article 520 of the Commercial Act of Korea (Judgments for Dissolution) “(1) If, in any of the following cases, there exists unavoidable reasons, any shareholder who holds shares representing no less than 10 percent of the total issued and outstanding shares may request a court to dissolve the company; When the company’s business operation continues to be

Continue reading

Korean Independent Contractor Risks: Korean Labor Standards Act Basics

The Korean Court System has been less reluctant, in recent years, to deem a Korean independent contractor an “employee” under the Labor Standards Act (LSA).  This fact remains true even when an employer establishes that the independent contractor is aware that he/she was contracted as an independent contractor, thus, not a regular employee of the Korean company. Upon the establishment of the status as “employee” in Korea, the individual is entitled to all of the benefits of an employee including, inter alia, severance and employment security, thus, increasing the compliance, tax, payroll and other risks to the foreign-capital invested Korean company. Obligations to Employees under the LSA The obligations to employees under the LSA are extensive and beyond the scope of this short article.  The more significant and obvious are the Korean legal requirement to provide severance benefits and employment security. With regard to severance benefits, a company must pay,

Continue reading

Can you Succeed in Korea without Resorting to Bribery?

Perhaps in a few warped ways, I have a bit of affection for the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which bars American companies from bribing officials overseas. From a nostalgic perspective, I recall when this act was made into law while I was at my first “real job” at The Chase Manhattan Bank in Seoul. The immediate reactions around me in the US business community were those of dread. We were certain that we would be put to disadvantage when competing with the locals as well as with other foreign nationalities. It turned out not to be the case. In fact, by and large we discovered the act gave us legitimate cover not to “go local” in conducting unethical and potentially sordid business practices. In time, other Western nations passed similar laws. While this clean business movement has hardly eradicated corruption, it has contributed to reducing unethical business behavior – most

Continue reading

Why are Legal Fees at Korean Law Firms Higher than New York and London: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

I had a client note that their former Korean law firm was charging them double what they would have been charged in NY for a similar project.  This is not rare and the situation is, often, worse when litigation is involved.  A list of the best Korean law firms in Korea may be found at: 10 Best Law Firms in Korea. The Good: The Hourly Rates in Korea, normally, are Lower than Hong Kong, London, New York, Tokyo and Paris. Increased competition has brought down rates to levels equal to a decade ago. Korea is increasing the number of students that pass the bar exam. More international attorneys (American, British, German and Chinese) have entered the market, thus, increasing competition. More firms with international attorneys in Korean are capable of handling matters for foreigners. Competition is quickly bringing down the cost, however, foreign clients without knowledge of the market are

Continue reading

Korea Blockchain Law Society Founded: Korean Crptocurrency Law Updates

The inaugural meeting of the Blockchain Law Society of Korea was held last week.  We wrote on the Korean Law Blog articles on Korean Blockchain/Alt Currency Law and shall be participating in the Blockchain Law Society and updating the reader on issues addressed by the Blockchain Law Society.  You shall find more articles on Blockchain, Alt currenices, Korean Crypto-currency Law and like topics on this blog over the next couple of months. We are looking forward to more lively discussions and hope that the Korean Blockchain Law society shall lead to a comprehensive Korean CryptoCurrency -Blockchain Law that does not lead to destruction of a unique and potentially profitable business opportunity for entrepreneurs in Korea and entrepreneurs that wish to invest in Korea.  We hope that foreign investors are, also, considered in these meetings and in the drafting of these laws.  Foreign investors play a key part in Korean business and locking

Continue reading

Confession Prior to Arrest in Korea: Korean Sentencing Law Basics

Some crimes in Korea require the victim’s consent for the prosecutor to indict a victim, the most literal translation of these types of crimes are “Crimes Not Punished Against the Will of the Victim.” Additionally, a “Self Denunciation” (Confession to Korean Investigative Agency Prior to Arrest ) may mitigate punishment (Korean Criminal Act Article 52).  The difference between these types of crimes and the formality in confessing may forego the opportunity to avoid a jail sentence. All good Korean criminal defense lawyers, at a minimum, should be aware of this specific issue, confession formalities and, also, be aware of the need, in many cases, to proactively engage alleged victims. Korean Confessions/Self-Denunciation in Sentencing Law in Korea  Criminal Act of Korea, Article 52 (1) When self-denunciation is made to competent authorities who have the responsibility to investigate the crimes, the punishment may be mitigated or remitted. (2) The preceding paragraph shall apply

Continue reading

Korean Entrapment Law: Korean Criminal Procedure Law Basics

The use of the Entrapment Defense in Korea depends on if the actions of the police/investigators have “induced” the suspect to commit a crime or merely provided an “opportunity” for the suspect to commit a crime.  The “crime inducing” act by the Korean government is a criminal defense to the alleged consummated crime.  The main job of the court in determining if the crime was induced is to determine the intent of the suspect at the time of the alleged inducing action by the Korean police/investigator. The Korean Supreme Court clarified this entrapment criminal defense rule in a case disposed of in the Fall of 2005. The Supreme Court of Korea acknowledged that entrapment likely occurred in a case that concerned a paid informant and the smuggling of drugs from China to Korea. The informant, according to the defendants, asserted that the importation of the drugs was to assist the government efforts to fight drug

Continue reading

Korean Medical Malpractice Arbitration Law

Korean Medical Malpractice lawsuits are often compared to “Beating one’s head against the wall,” since Korean medical malpractice lawsuit are, typically, difficult for patients to prevail in.  In medical malpractice cases, in Korea, and in most developed jurisdictions, the plaintiff has the duty to establish, among other things, a nexus between the alleged injury and the actions or in actions of the doctor.  Proving this nexus is, often, difficult because of the apprehension of expert witnesses (doctors) to step on the toes of other doctors, cost of obtaining neutral experts and lack of adequate legal resources for injured patients. One valid means of obtaining a remedy, in a cost effective manner, is via Korea’s Medical Dispute Medication & Arbitration Agency (“KMDMA”). However, under the prior Act on Remedies for Injuries from Medical Malpractice and Mediation of Medical Disputes (abbreviated as “Medical Dispute Mediation Act”) the a plaintiff was, only, able to

Continue reading

Civil Court Proceedings in Korean Courts: Korean Civil Litigation Basics

The following is a timetable-based outline of Korean Civil Court Proceedings at Korean Courts.  Please note, this is the typical civil court proceedings and exceptions do and, often, exist at Korean civil courts.  Korean civil courts are less procedure focused than U.S., British, German and other Western nations’ courts, thus, allowing more flexibility for judges and the parties. The proceedings at Korean courts of first instance is, typically, completed within one year from the filing the complaint to a district court and appeals to the High Court in Korea (court of second instance), typically, is completed with ten months of filing the appeal to the Korean High Court.  Appeals to the Korean Supreme Court may, sometimes, take multiple years to complete. We have excluded from this list proceedings within the Constitutional Court of Korea, Korean Family Courts, the Korean Administrative Courts, Patent Courts, Small Claims courts and other special courts. 

Continue reading

South Korean Act on International Judicial Mutual Assistance in Civil Matters: Obtaining Evidence via Korean Courts and the Korean Government for use in Proceedings Abroad

In some cases in Korean courts, it is advisable to obtain evidence held in a foreign jurisdiction for use in a Korean civil proceeding in a Korean court.  The need often assists in establishing damages, course of dealings or the basis of liability.  Additionally, in cases in non-Korean courts, evidence held in Korea may be useful in these foreign court proceedings for similar reasons.  The Korean Act on International Judicial Mutual Assistance in Civil Matters sets out specific requirements that need to be met before the Korean government may order the production of this requested evidence. We have assisted foreign law firms in obtaining evidence in Korea and, also, we have requested evidence from foreign jurisdictions in pending cases in Korea.  Korea has, thankful, improved, in recent years, its protocols for handling requests from foreign courts. Please note, in a Korean lawsuit a Korean judge may request from a foreign

Continue reading

Enforcement of Arbitral Awards in Korean Courts: Arbitration Law Basics

After an arbitration panel outside of Korea renders an arbitral award against a Korean company or individual, typically, if the non-prevailing party lacks assets outside of Korea or the prevailing party needs to enjoin acts in Korea, the prevailing party chooses to enforce the arbitration award in Korea.  Enforcement is not as easy as just giving arbitral awards to non-prevailing Korean parties.  For enforcement of foreign judgments in Korean courts please see: Enforcement of Foreign Judgments in Korean Courts.  When enforcing foreign arbitral awards in Korea, Article 37(1) & (2) of the Arbitration Act of Korea comes into play, thus, leading to the need to apply Korean Law to the enforcement of the arbitral awards and utilize a Korean court for enforcement. The good news is that in 2016, the Arbitration Act of Korea was amended to, among other things, allow for a quicker and less cumbersome manner of enforcing

Continue reading

Basics to Successfully Outsourcing Production of your Product to Korea: Korea OEM Basics

So you have decided to outsource the manufacturing of your products to Korea. Good choice in choosing quality-focused Korea over quantity-focused China, but don’t make the bad choice of not considering basic basic legal due diligence necessary to protect your good name, technology, brand and the future of your business. If you plan on just dealing through a purchase order (PO) in Korea, you are heading down a path that may lead to a kick in the behind. The recession hit small/medium-sized manufacturers even harder than large manufacturers. Many of these SMEs have decided that the only way to survive is OEM (original equipment manufacturing) outsourcing to China, India, and other parts of Asia. I, also, do a good deal of enjoyable work in China. I am, however, always happy to see clients choose Korea over China, since many of the headaches you will experience in China and India will never

Continue reading

Dismissal of Employees in Korea: Supreme Court of Korea Precedent

The Korean Supreme Court ruled, in March of 2018, that a company may terminate employees for one incident of employee gambling.  The case stems from the termination of drivers that were caught on one occasion gambling prior to driving buses. The lower courts ruled, in short, that gambling was not a serious enough offense to justify termination since: The act of gambling, only, occurred on one occasion and thus trust between the employee and employer has not broken down; The employees performed their job functions adequately; and The non-termination of employment of the employees would not significantly interfere with the ability of the employer to successful continue its business- if the employees do not engage in these acts in the future. The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the lower court and noted that: Gambling could effect the rest period of the drivers and the job of the drivers requires

Continue reading

Duty to Report Product Defects in Korea

Korean law emphasizes the obligations a seller of goods has to a buyer in the event that a good that the seller manufactures, imports, sells, or supplies is defective.  The product defect reporting obligations are extensive and not reporting may have significant impact on your business in Korea.  This Duty to Report is codified, in part, under Korea’s Framework Act on Consumers and Framework Act on Product Safety.  This post is, only, intended as a short introduction to these acts.  Additional explanations shall follow in posts over the next few weeks.  For a general article on damages for product liability please see:  Product Liability Damages in Korea and for a general article on mass torts and class action law suits in Korea please see: Class Actions/Mass Torts in Korea. In short, in some cases, business entities are required to report defects of goods which cause or are likely to cause danger

Continue reading

Bithump Crypto-Currency Exchange in Korea to Ban Trading in 11 Countries

With the Korean government auditing Korean Alt Currency exchanges and the Korean government looking at the regulation of crypto-currency, a major exchange, in Korea, has banned the trading on the exchange from Iran, Syria, Iraq, Ethiopia, Serbia, Sri Lanka, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Vanuatu, and Yemen. These aforementioned nations are on the Financial Action Task Force’s Non-Cooperative Countries or Territories black list.  This Task Force, an intergovernmental agency, has deemed these countries to not have sufficient legal procedures in place to assist in preventing the laundering of money. The Korean government has raided Korean exchanges and investigated these raided exchanges for violation of Korean law.  On of the major worries was the use of Alt Currencies, including, Bitcoin for nefarious reasons including money laundering and the purchase of drugs. No criminal charges were levied against any individual from Bithump, however, charges of embezzlement and fraud were levied against executives from Coinnest

Continue reading

Definition of “Ordinary Wage” in Korea: Korean Employment & Labor Law Basics

The courts of the Republic of Korea, for years, has struggled to find a consistent interpretation of an “Ordinary Wage.”  The definition of Ordinary Wage, under Korean Law, was clarified by the Korean Supreme Court in two decisions handed down on December 18, 2013.  The calculation of Ordinary Wages is important, since it is utilized to calculate statutory entitlements, and thus has an impact on the aggregate amount of contributions necessary to be paid to employees. For example, according to Article 56 of the Korean Labor Standards Act, an employer must pay 50% of the Ordinary Wage plus the Ordinary Wage for overtime, night and weekend work performed by the employee. Because of the potential for a large unknown future liability, this issue became the most significant issue, in the last few years, among domestic and foreign employers in labor and employment law in Korea. The basic Korean test is

Continue reading

Arbitration against Korean Government Agencies in Korea: Korean Arbitration Law Basics.

The Korean National Assembly amended the Act on Contract to Which the State is a Party, partially, on December 1, 2017.  The amendment was intended to encourage the Korean Government to arbitrate more disputes with parties that have contracted with the Korean Government.  To date, few cases have been resolved via Arbitration when disputes occur between the Korean Government and parties to a contract with the Korean Government.  The reason stems, mainly, from realities within many Korean-based law firms, within in house legal teams at government agencies and the lack of knowldge of the benefits of arbitration for the Korean court system, Korean government agencies and those doing business with the Korean government.  For a general article on Arbitration in Korea, please see: Arbitration in Korea.  ACT ON CONTRACTS TO WHICH THE STATE IS A PARTY Article 28-2 (Settlement of Dispute Resolution) (1) The head of each central office or

Continue reading