YOKOSUKA, Kanagawa Pref. – A local court recommended Tuesday that 22 former Japanese workers at a U.S. naval base here and the government settle a damages suit over the workers’ claim they developed lung problems due to insufficient workplace safety measures.
Presiding Judge Teruo Takayanagi of the Yokosuka branch of the Yokohama District Court recommended that the government, as their employer, pay about 300 million yen to the former workers, who are demanding a combined 489.5 million yen.
The workers have charged that the government failed in its responsibility to prevent pneumoconiosis, or black lung disease.
There are three court cases pending by former Yokosuka base workers demanding redress for the disease. The plaintiffs’ lawyer said it is the first time a court has recommended a settlement in connection with the suits.
The issue had raised questions as to the responsibility of securing safety for employees hired by the government but working for the U.S. military.
Under the settlement proposal, the government is requested to pay about 14 million yen each to 20 of the 22 plaintiffs. It also sought 25 million yen for one who died, while the statute of limitations expired on the last plaintiff.
The parties are expected to decide by May 24 whether they will settle.
The lawsuit was filed in 2002. The plaintiffs’ lawyers were seeking an early resolution of the case because their clients are of advanced age, between 64 and 85.
Yasushi Takemoto, one of the lawyers, said the plaintiffs are fully satisfied with the court’s settlement proposal.
Most of their claims regarding the government’s responsibility and the amount of compensation have been recognized, he said.
According to the lawsuit, the plaintiffs developed pneumoconiosis from having inhaled large amounts of asbestos dust during shipboard work at the base. The longest period one of the plaintiffs worked in such conditions was 38 years.
No measures were taken at the base to counter the negative effects of asbestos on health until around 1980. Asbestos was used as a heat insulator and fire retardant.
Of the three lawsuits, the plaintiffs in the first suit, filed in 1999, won at the district court in 2002. But the Tokyo High Court overturned the claims of some of the plaintiffs last May, and the suit is now under appeal before the Supreme Court.
The third suit was filed last July.