According to South Korean newspaper JoongAng Ilbo, families of five victims have filed a “class-action” against a confessed serial killer, seeking to recover more than a billion won. The eye-catching amount sought in the case loses some of its “wow” factor when one considers that a billion won, translated into U.S. dollars, amounts to just over $700,000.
Regardless of the amount at stake, the case is interesting because it illustrates the different ways in which the English term “class-action” is used in describing litigation in other parts of the world. In the U.S., a “class action” is commonly thought of as a device allowing to take on powerful corporate or government abuses—or, depending on one’s perspective, to extort money out of powerful interests with deep pockets. In South Korea, the procedural device reportedly has been used as a tool to stifle public protest and now, to seize the assets of an accused killer.
The author’s description of the serial killer case as a “class-action” appears simply to be a reference to the fact that it is multi-party case, as distinguised from a true representative action. In the U.S., five plaintiffs would not be enough to meet the numerosity requirement under FRCP 23, and here, a similar case would more likely be brought as a wrongful death action, with the victims’ families either joining together as plaintiffs or pursuing relief separately.
Still, it’s hard to resist the temptation to imagine what the class notice might look like if class action were to be filed in the U.S. against a serial killer, “LEGAL NOTICE: If you or a family member have been chopped up and kept in a freezer, a class action lawsuit may affect your rights …” Of course, here, the case would probably be brought against the freezer manufacturer.