S.Korea court says automakers not to blame for asthma

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A court ruled Wednesday that South Korea's government and five main automakers are not responsible for respiratory diseases allegedly caused by air pollution.

A group of 23 patients suffering from asthma or other respiratory diseases brought the rare lawsuit in February 2007, claiming 30 million won (26,000 dollars) in damages for each plaintiff.

They claimed the government's lack of anti-pollution measures and automakers' negligence worsened air pollution and caused their illness.

"Given conflicting evidence well presented by the defendants, it cannot be ruled out that other causes (than auto exhaust gases) are involved," the Seoul Central District Court said in a statement.

The automakers, including Hyundai, Kia, GM Daewoo, Ssangyong and Renault Samsung, argued that there was no direct relationship between the patients' diseases and air pollution.

Following the court ruling, they said in a statement that Seoul's air pollution had worsened little despite the huge growth in the number of cars in the street in recent decades.

The plaintiffs cited a 2002 Japanese appeals court ruling, which ruled in favour of seven asthma patients seeking damages from automakers and the government.