Government redress ordered for Hokkaido miners’ anthracosis

SAPPORO (Kyodo) A Sapporo judge ordered the central government Friday to pay damages to a group of former coal miners and relatives of deceased miners over the contraction of anthracosis, or black lung disease.

The Sapporo District Court ordered the central government to pay between ¥4.76 million and ¥9.16 million to each of the 15 plaintiffs.

Presiding Judge Ikujiro Nakayama rejected the government’s argument that the plaintiffs’ had lost the right to demand compensation because the statute of limitations had expired. The critical issue was determining when the statute of limitations for the plaintiffs’ commenced.

The central government argued that the plaintiffs filed the damages suit in April 2008 and later, more than four years after the Supreme Court acknowledged the government’s responsibility in a separate suit filed by other former coal miners who contracted anthracosis in Fukuoka Prefecture.

The Civil Code stipulates that the right to demand compensation for damages shall expire if it is not exercised within three years after a victim first becomes aware of the damages and the identity of the parties at fault.

The government, citing the Civil Code stipulation, claimed the plaintiffs could have known within a year of the Supreme Court decision that the state was also to blame.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs countered they did not know who the parties at fault were because the Supreme Court decision was too hard for the victims to comprehend.

They argued that the period covered by the statute of limitations started only after the plaintiffs consulted lawyers and learned of the relief available to them through the courts.

In Friday’s decision, Judge Nakayama said the statute began when the victims, not the general public, actually realized they could seek damages in court.

The plaintiffs worked at coal mines in Hokkaido from 1960 to 1986 and contracted black lung disease. Those who died after filing the suit were replaced by next of kin.