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Court orders government to pay ¥176 million to asbestos victims

JIJI

The Sapporo District Court ordered the government on Tuesday to pay a total of ¥176 million in damages to former construction workers who are suffering from asbestos-related diseases, including the family members of those who have already died from their ailments.

The lawsuit by 33 individuals, including workers who had developed lung cancer after inhaling asbestos at work sites in Hokkaido, was filed against 41 construction material-makers, including Kubota Corp., and the government. The plaintiffs originally demanded a total of ¥962.5 million in damages.

Presiding Judge Toshio Uchino said, “The state should have informed the workers’ employers by 1980 of the need to use dust-proof masks.”

But the ruling determined that the material-makers should not be held responsible. The plaintiffs plan to appeal the court’s decision.

The ruling is the latest in a series of class action lawsuits filed with six district courts over health-related damages caused by asbestos at construction sites. Including the Sapporo ruling, the government has been held partially or fully responsible in five cases.

A verdict by the Kyoto District Court in January last year found that both the government and the material companies were to blame for the damages, while the Yokohama District Court in a May 2012 judgment determined that neither bore responsibility. The rulings have been appealed to higher courts.

“By 1979, with the report of an expert having already been submitted to the labor ministry, the state was made aware of the existence of asbestos-related diseases,” Uchino said in Tuesday’s ruling.

“It is unacceptable that the government did not take preventive measures in 1980, including handing out dust-proof masks, as it (was predictable that it) would affect the workers’ lives,” the judge said.

Meanwhile, the verdict rejected claims for damages against the 41 material-makers, saying it is impossible to specify which companies’ material affected each of the plaintiffs who worked at the various construction sites.

In addition, Uchino said measures should be taken to compensate those who suffer from asbestos-induced diseases, but added that “we can only wait for policy decisions by the legislative body and the government.”

An official from the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry described the ruling as “tough” on the government, and said the ministry will respond after consulting with other government agencies.