• Kyodo

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The Sapporo District Court ordered the government Thursday to pay roughly 450 million yen in compensation to relatives of seven out of 20 people who were killed in a 1996 highway tunnel cave-in in Hokkaido.

The three-judge panel made the decision in a 640 million yen damages suit filed by 16 relatives of seven of the victims, awarding 449.48 million yen to the plaintiffs.

The court did not judge whether the disaster could have been foreseen.

On Feb. 10, 1996, a boulder weighing about 21,000 tons smashed through the Toyohama Tunnel near Yoichi, Hokkaido, crushing a bus and a car and killing 20 people.

Lawyers representing the plaintiffs had argued in court that the government bears responsibility for the deaths because it built the 1,086-meter-long tunnel despite knowing that the ground around the tunnel was too fragile to support such a project.

Noting that other large rocks had fallen in the vicinity before the fatal boulder fall, the lawyers said the government’s then Hokkaido Development Agency, which built and managed the tunnel, failed to adequately monitor the tunnel, and that it could have foreseen the disaster and taken measures to prevent it.

In 1998, the government reached an out-of-court settlement with the 12 families of the 13 other victims (two were from the same family), with the state paying between 30 million yen and 80 million yen each.

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