High court reverses black lung ruling

Statute of limitations imposed on base workers seeking compensation

The Tokyo High Court on Tuesday overturned a lower court ruling that ordered the state to pay some 64 million yen in compensation to workers who developed black lung disease by working at the U.S. Navy base in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture.

In handing down the ruling, presiding Judge Sueo Kito said that the statute of limitations had run out before the suit was filed.

The statute gave the plaintiffs, two Japanese who used to work at the base and the family of one who has since died, 10 years to seek compensation for the state’s failure to ensure safety.

“There are no special circumstances that kept (the plaintiffs) from filing the suit (earlier), and the state’s demand that the statute of limitations be applied in this case is not an abuse of authority,” the judge said.

In response, the plaintiffs said they plan to appeal to the Supreme Court, arguing that black lung disease, or pneumoconiosis, is progressive and there can be no statute of limitations for it.

The suit was initially filed by 12 pneumoconiosis sufferers. The Yokohama District Court ruled in October that while the statute of limitations had run out, “it is extremely unjust and unfair for the the state to be absolved of (its responsibility) to compensate (them)” and ordered the central government to pay the three the same compensation awarded the remaining nine plaintiffs, or 230 million yen in total.

Although the state accepted the district court ruling for the other nine, it appealed the ruling for the three, demanding that the statute of limitations be recognized.

According to the ruling, the three workers in the suit worked at the base for some 30 years from around 1950. They were recognized as suffering from the illness, known as black lung disease, while they were employed there or after retirement.