Suit in ’68 Kanemi oil poisoning axed

Kyodo

A branch of the Fukuoka District Court on Thursday threw out a ¥605 million damages suit filed by victims of a massive food poisoning case in 1968 that was blamed on toxic cooking oil made by Kanemi Soko K.K.

The Kokura branch said the 59 victims and relatives of victims could not seek damages more than 20 years after symptoms emerged due to the “period of exclusion,” a kind of statute of limitations, set out by the Civil Code.

The plaintiffs said they will appeal the ruling.

Most of the 14,000 or so victims, aged 51 to 91, were recognized as food poisoning patients under new diagnostic criteria adopted in 2004. They filed their lawsuit in 2008.

The poisoning, believed to be Japan’s biggest, was caused by rice bran cooking oil tainted by polychlorinated biphenyls and dioxin. But it wasn’t until 2004 that PCB and dioxin levels in blood were officially listed as criteria for confirming food poisoning.

Until that time, the plaintiffs had to pay their own medical expenses.

Kanemi Soko, based in Kitakyushu, had argued that the plaintiffs could not claim damages because more than 20 years had passed since the incident occurred in 1968.

The plaintiffs said it had been impossible to sue the company before they were officially recognized as being food-poisoning patients. They thus argued that the exclusion period should have been recalculated based on the time when they were finally certified as victims.

The food poisoning spread across western Japan after Kanemi’s toxic cooking oil caused about 14,000 people to come down with headaches, skin disorders and deformities.

Some of the victims still have symptoms.

The court negotiated a settlement offer in January, urging Kanemi Soko to pay ¥300,000 to each plaintiff in pre-recognition medical costs.

It also asked the oil maker to pay ¥5 million per head as settlement money, but said it would be paid only after the company went bankrupt. The plaintiffs rejected the offer in February.