Korean Air 'nut rage' victim gets industrial injury recognition

Former Korean Air Lines executive Heather Cho (right), who was involved in the "nut rage" case, covers her face as she is surrounded by reporters when she is released at a courthouse in Seoul, South Korea, May 22, 2015.
Former Korean Air Lines executive Heather Cho (right), who was involved in the "nut rage" case, covers her face as she is surrounded by reporters when she is released at a courthouse in Seoul, South Korea, May 22, 2015.PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL (AFP) - The Korean Air chief steward ejected from a flight by a senior airline executive in a now infamous "nut rage" incident, has had his industrial injury claim approved by a state agency, officials said Wednesday.

The recognition comes as Park Chang-Jin is reportedly preparing to file a lawsuit in US court demanding US$50-million-dollar damages from Korean Air for the abuse he claims he suffered at the hand of Cho Hyun-Ah, a former vice-president of the airline.

The eldest daughter of the airline's chairman, Cho was vice-president in charge of in-flight service at the time of her December 5 "nut rage" meltdown on board a Seoul-bound KAL flight that had just left the gate in New York.

As the plane was taxiing to the runway, Cho, sitting in first class, became enraged when a flight attendant served her some nuts in a bag, rather than on a plate.

She then berated Park for his team's shortcomings, and the steward said he was forced to kneel in front of her while she shouted and jabbed him with an in-flight manual.

He was then forced to leave the plane after Cho ordered the pilot to return to the gate.

In an industrial injury claim filed with the state-run Korea Workers' Compensation and Welfare Service, the state agency that rules on industrial accident cases, Park complained of post-traumatic depression and insomnia following the incident.

"His case was recognised as an industrial injury," an agency spokesman told AFP.

The ruling will allow Park, who has been on paid leave since the incident, to receive compensation for medical bills and any lost wages.

The flight attendant who served Cho the nuts, Kim Do-Hee, has already filed a civil lawsuit in New York, alleging Cho attacked, threatened and screamed obscenities at her, and then pressured her to cover up the incident by lying to government regulators.

Cho was jailed in February for a year for violating aviation safety laws, but was freed in May after the High Court in Seoul handed down a reduced sentence of 10 months, suspended for two years.

Many South Koreans saw Cho's behaviour as emblematic of a generation of spoilt and arrogant offspring of owners of the giant family-run conglomerates, or "chaebols", that dominate the national economy.

The "nut rage" case invited international ridicule and Cho was criticised at home for embarrassing the country and damaging its image.