The Seoul Central District Court on Thursday rejected wartime labor compensation claims against Japanese manufacturer Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. from 54 plaintiffs, citing insufficient evidence to prove their recruitment.
The 54 were among 63 who had filed compensation lawsuits against the company. The court still ordered Mitsubishi Heavy to pay one male plaintiff 10 million won ($8,600) in damages, while rejecting claims by the remaining eight over procedural issues.
In explaining the ruling, the court said the fundamental principle of civil procedure is that to find a defendant liable, plaintiffs must be found to have been forcibly recruited into coal mines or workshops operated by it.
The plaintiffs sued Mitsubishi Heavy in 2013.
In 2018, South Korea's top court ordered Mitsubishi Heavy and another Japanese company to compensate groups of Koreans over forced labor during Japan's colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945.
Since then, lower courts in South Korea have issued similar rulings against Mitsubishi Heavy and a few other Japanese companies.
The rulings and subsequent legal moves against the companies' assets in South Korea have strained ties between Japan and South Korea, whose relations are often roiled by historical disputes.
Japan maintains that the issue of compensation was settled under a 1965 bilateral agreement, and that South Korea needs to take action because the compensation orders are in contravention of the accord.
The plaintiffs in Thursday's case had the backing of a South Korean group that has brought lawsuits against numerous Japanese companies. But they are not included in a list of Koreans certified by the South Korean government as victims of forced labor.
A lawyer for the plaintiffs said those whose claims were rejected Thursday were not able to gather relevant evidence or did not have enough recollections to prove their case.