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The government on Tuesday filed an appeal to the Supreme Court against a high court ruling ordering the state and three companies to pay 1.91 billion yen in compensation to former coal miners who contracted black-lung disease and to families of those who died from the disease.

“It is inappropriate to ask the state to compensate for companies’ negligence of duty to encourage workers to wear masks” to prevent them from contracting pneumoconiosis, said Takeo Hiranuma, minister of economy, trade and industry.

Hiranuma also said there is less risk of contracting the disease in coal mines than in metal mines, and that the ruling therefore distributes too much responsibility to the state.

Meanwhile, a group of lawyers representing the plaintiffs said they will ask the Supreme Court not to accept the government’s appeal.

The government should immediately relieve the sufferers and take measures to avoid a reoccurrence rather than file an appeal, the group said at a news conference.

On July 19, the Fukuoka High Court ordered the state and the three firms — Mitsui Mining Co., Nittetsu Mining Co. and Mitsui Coal Mining Co. — to pay the damages, holding them responsible for failing to take measures to prevent workers from contracting the disease.

The decision overturned a 1995 ruling by the Fukuoka District Court acquitting the state of responsibility.

Pneumoconiosis is caused by dust particles, particularly coal dust, and is one of the oldest and the most widespread job-related diseases.

Following the high court’s ruling, the plaintiffs — 30 former miners and 401 relatives of 95 deceased miners who had worked at coal mines in the Chikuho region of Fukuoka Prefecture — asked the government to refrain from filing an appeal.

Also on July 19, former construction workers and families of deceased workers filed suits with the Sendai and Matsuyama district courts seeking compensation from construction companies for failure to prevent them from contracting the disease in tunnel work.

These moves are part of a nationwide action by some 250 people, following a settlement over the issue reached in the Tokyo District Court in February.

In Sendai, 43 people from six prefectures in the Tohoku region sought 92 million yen in compensation from 40 construction companies. Settlements have already been reached for 38 of the 164 plaintiffs who have fielded suits since 1997, with others aimed to follow by the end of this year, according to their lawyers.

In Matsuyama, four people demanded 22 million yen each in compensation from 33 firms, including general construction firm Kajima Corp.

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