Tokyo court orders state to pay ¥1 billion to compensate asbestos victims

Kyodo

The Tokyo District Court ordered the central government Wednesday to pay ¥1.06 billion in redress on behalf of workers who contracted asbestos-related diseases such as lung cancer at construction sites due to insufficient official countermeasures, but it let the makers of materials using the mineral off the hook.

It was the first ruling to acknowledge the state’s responsibility among class-action lawsuits filed with six regional courts over construction workers’ exposure to asbestos. In the first ruling on the lawsuits, the Yokohama District Court in May ruled totally against the plaintiffs.

In the suit filed with the Tokyo court, the plaintiffs — former construction workers and the next of kin of deceased workers — demanded a total of ¥11.8 billion in compensation from the state and 42 manufacturers of construction materials containing asbestos in connection with 308 former workers in the Tokyo metropolitan area who suffered asbestos-related diseases, including 199 who have died.

The 308 workers used to deal with materials containing asbestos mostly in and after the 1960s. The plaintiffs demanded that ¥38.5 million be paid for each worker, accusing the state of failing to take protective steps until 2003, when it prohibited, in principle, the production of materials containing asbestos. They are also demanding that manufacturers be held responsible as well.

While waiving the manufacturers’ liability, presiding Judge Masamitsu Shiseki held the state responsible and ordered it to pay compensation in connection with workers who suffered asbestos-related diseases after engaging in indoor work in or after 1981.

The central government argued that it introduced appropriate regulations after considering the available medical knowledge as well as social and economic conditions in a comprehensive manner.

Asbestos, a naturally produced fibrous mineral, was used often in construction materials for insulation and fire protection. But its use was gradually restricted as it was found that inhaling the substance could cause lung cancer and other diseases.

It was revealed in 2005 that residents near a factory run by machinery maker Kubota Corp. in Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture, suffered asbestos-related diseases.