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Supreme Court upholds Kubota liability in asbestos death case

Kyodo

The Supreme Court has upheld a ruling that found asbestos used at a Kubota Corp. plant caused fatal mesothelioma in a man who lived near the plant and ordered the company to pay ¥31.9 million in damages to his relatives.

It’s the first time the Supreme Court has upheld a lower court decision recognizing corporate responsibility for asbestos-related illness in someone living near a factory.

All five judges on the court’s Third Petty Bench, led by Justice Takehiko Otani, upheld the ruling Tuesday, court officials said.

The plaintiffs were relatives of Kojiro Yamauchi, who died at age 80 after working for two decades about 200 meters from the Kubota plant in Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture.

He lived near his workplace.

His relatives and those of Ayako Yasui, who died at age 85 having lived about 1 km from the plant, sought damages from both Kubota and the government.

The Kobe District Court ruled in August 2012 that asbestos fibers had spread outside the plant, ordering Kubota to pay damages to Yamauchi’s family, but not Yasui’s. The decision was later upheld by the Osaka High Court, and now by the Supreme Court.

The government was not liable, the lower courts ruled, because not enough was known about the risk to nearby residents to implement regulations.

Kubota has offered compensation to residents since 2005, but it has denied there is any link between local illnesses and fibers from the plant. The plaintiffs in the Supreme Court case did not receive the compensation.

Last October, the Supreme Court ruled that the government was responsible for failing to protect workers from exposure at asbestos factories in Sennan, Osaka Prefecture.

Former construction workers from around the country have also filed lawsuits in connection with asbestos-linked illnesses.