Samsung Case Confirms Value of Court Access

In certain political circles over the last couple of decades it has become quite popular to bash the court system in general and trial lawyers in particular, all under the banner of tort reform. But, the somewhat grudging November 22nd announcement of the settlement of a decade old massive injury and death controversy in South Korea between electronics giant Samsung and hundreds of its workers and their families dramatically confirms the value of free access to courts which provide balanced justice to all comers.

In 2007, a 23-year-old Korean woman working in a Samsung factory making semiconductors and liquid crystal display components died of leukemia after being exposed to severely carcinogenic chemicals. Her father refused the nominal settlement Samsung offered in compensation and started a movement to hold Samsung and Korean authorities accountable for massive safety lapses in worker and workplace safety which resulted in injuries to, and illnesses and deaths of numerous workers and even their families, including infants. Until this movement gained steam, it was common for workers filing claims to have them routinely tossed by Korean courts with a distinct pro-business bias. After resisting the claims for over a decade, Samsung finally agreed to significantly increase compensation to the victims and to issue an apology and acknowledgement that it “failed to create a safe working environment at its computer chip and display factories,” even as it continued to deny outright liability. While its refusal even now to step up and do the completely right thing is regrettable, Samsung has at least taken a real step towards progress and meaningful protections for its huge Korean workforce.

If you are one of those who are or have been harshly critical of American and Texas courts and trial lawyers, please bear this distressing Korean experience in mind. When workers and their families have free access to an open court system which is fair and unbiased, and in which bad actors can be held fully accountable, we all benefit. When the courts become lackeys for big business and complicit in hiding serious abuse, even if profits rise in the short term, we all lose in the end. True justice truly matters and only fair and open courts can provide it.