Osaka court awards 50 plaintiffs ¥180 million, says government should have acted by 1960

State held liable for asbestos exposure

Kyodo

A court ruled Wednesday that the government is responsible for failing to take sufficient measures to protect asbestos workers in Osaka from contracting asbestosis and lung cancer.

In a damages suit brought by 55 people that included former factory employees and their families, the Osaka District Court ordered the state to pay ¥180 million in damages to 50 of them.

A panel of three judges led by Judge Kenichi Ono also acknowledged a damages claim by the family of a former transport company employee whose job was to haul raw materials into the asbestos spinning mills, marking the first decision in favor of someone other than plant workers, lawyers representing the plaintiffs said.

“By 1959, medical knowledge about asbestosis had accumulated and the state was aware of serious damage” from asbestos exposure, Ono said in the ruling, adding the state should have taken measures by 1960, when a law on measures to prevent asbestosis was enacted.

The court said the state failed to take proper measures until 1971, when it required the installment of ventilation systems.

The ruling follows a May 2010 district court decision that awarded ¥435 million to 23 former Osaka spinning plant workers and their families. The Osaka High Court overturned that ruling last August.

The high court said the state had taken some legal and administrative measures based on medical knowledge at different times, prompting the plaintiffs to appeal to the Supreme Court.

The plaintiffs include those who worked at spinning mills between 1947 and 1999 in southern Osaka, as well as their families and the transport company employee, according to their complaint filed in the latest suit. They sued the state in stages between 2009 an 2011, claiming compensation ranging from ¥5.5 million to ¥44 million per person.

The plaintiffs maintained the government should have made it obligatory for plants to install ventilation equipment by 1957, given medical knowledge about lung asbestosis by that time.

However, the state insisted it did not have enough medical knowledge about the disease at that point, and only made it mandatory to set up ventilation equipment in 1971, when installing such devices became possible.