A new wave of class action legislation is now before the National Assembly of the Republic of Korea. With these liability-expanding proposals and the increased presence of litigation funding in the country, the Korean litigation environment is at a tipping point.
There are several bills pending in the National Assembly aimed at expanding the scope of the existing class action rule, which is limited to securities cases, to other areas of the law, such as product liability, antitrust, consumer protection, and environment.
There is also an amendment on punitive damages that was adopted as part of the Product Liability Law and will become effective in April of 2018. This new amendment will provide for punitive damages (up to three times the actual damages or treble damages) if (i) the manufacturer knew about the defect of the product and failed to take necessary measures and (ii) the defect resulted in significant harm to a consumer’s life or body.
Not long ago, punitive damages were initially introduced in South Korea in the Personal Information Protection Act (i.e., data protection law) in cases where “loss, theft, leakage, forgery, alteration, or impairment of personal information due to a deliberate act or a serious error” occurred.
Meanwhile, the Korean Department of Justice has formed a special committee to “enhance” the Korean class action system. The Department is reportedly in the process of collecting input and opinions on the class action system, and will eventually be submitting another draft bill to the National Assembly.