January 26, 2006

S.Korea court rules US firms pay for Agent Orange

By Jack Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) - A South Korean appeals court on Thursday
ordered two U.S. chemical firms to pay 63.1 billion won ($65.2
million) in damages to 20,000 of the country's Vietnam War
veterans for exposure to defoliants such as Agent Orange.

The Seoul High Court overturned two lower court decisions
and found Dow Chemical Co. and Monsanto Co. negligent for
manufacturing defoliants used by the U.S. military in the
Vietnam War with an excess dioxin content, according to court

"The ruling recognizes responsibility lies with the
defendants, who were manufacturers of defoliants, for damages
suffered by South Korea's veterans to the Vietnam War due to a
product defect," the court said in a summary.

The ruling awarded damages ranging from 6 million won to 46
million won to the former veterans who brought the case in two
class-action suits.

The defoliant Agent Orange was dumped by U.S. warplanes on
Vietnamese forests between 1962 and 1971 to destroy sources of
food and cover.

Among the chemical by-products of Agent Orange is dioxin, a
compound that can cause cancer, deformities and organ

The chemical companies argued in U.S. cases they produced
Agent Orange according to U.S. government specifications and
that there has never been a proven connection between the agent
and the health problems it is accused of causing.

In 1984, seven chemical companies, including Dow and
Monsanto, agreed to settle out of court for $180 million with
U.S. veterans who claimed Agent Orange caused cancer and other
health problems.

More than 300,000 South Korean troops fought in the Vietnam
with U.S.-led forces, historians said.

Due to problems arising from jurisdiction and the amount of
time that has elapsed since the war, legal experts said it will
be cumbersome or perhaps impossible for the veterans to collect
damages, South Korean media reported.

The court upheld a separate lower court ruling denying 15
children of Vietnam War veterans seeking damages for claims
that they inherited illnesses from their veteran fathers who
were exposed to toxic agents.