OSAKA – The Osaka District Court ordered the government and drugmakers Wednesday to pay a combined 256 million yen in damages to nine of 13 people who were infected with the hepatitis C virus from tainted blood products.
Of the 13 who were treated with fibrinogen and other blood-clotting products, five were awarded compensation from both the state and the drugmakers and four only from the manufacturers.
But the court denied damages to the remaining four. Three of the four used fibrinogen before August 1985, when the drugmaker changed its manufacturing method, increasing the risk of infection. The remaining plaintiff used a different product.
Presiding Judge Toshitsugu Nakamoto said it was illegal for the state not to have initiated regulatory measures to prevent infection from the blood clotting agents after discovering a mass infection of hepatitis C apparently from fibrinogen in Aomori Prefecture in April 1987.
The court ordered the state pay a total 136 million yen to the five people who were treated with fibrinogen after the infections in Aomori.
The 13 plaintiffs, from the Kinki, Chugoku and Shikoku regions, now in their 20s to 50s, were given fibrinogen from the now-defunct Green Cross Corp. and other agents to help their blood clot after giving birth or having surgery between 1981 and 1988.
Of the 13 plaintiffs infected with hepatitis C, 10 have developed the disease.
Wednesday’s decision is the first on the issue of blood-clotting agents tainted with hepatitis C infecting patients.
Since October 2002, suits have been filed by 96 people in five district courts, in Tokyo, Osaka, Fukuoka, Sendai and Nagoya, blaming the state and drugmakers for their hepatitis C infections.
“Through the lawsuit, I came to understand the bigger picture of the risks that tainted blood products carry,” said Seiko Takeda, 55, one of the plaintiffs awarded compensation from both the state and the drugmakers.
“The government needs to provide treatment for the victims, and it will be too late for (the four denied damages) if they wait for the case to be sent to the Supreme Court.”
The plaintiffs had claimed the government and the drugmakers, including Mitsubishi Pharma Corp., the firm created as a result of several mergers that included Green Cross, were responsible for their infection and had demanded a combined 760 million yen in damages.
They had said the state and the drugmakers should have realized the danger of infection.
Green Cross, also blamed for mass HIV infections via tainted blood products, merged in 1998 with Yoshitomi Pharmaceuticals Industries Ltd., which then merged with Mitsubishi-Tokyo Pharmaceuticals Inc. in 2001 to create Mitsubishi Pharma.
The plaintiffs claimed the state was to blame for approving the production of the blood products and for failing to take necessary regulatory steps, even after warnings were issued and the U.S. banned the products in the 1970s.
They had argued the drugmakers failed to warn the public of the risks connected to using the products.
The government approved the production and import of fibrinogen in June 1964.
The U.S. pulled its approval for fibrinogen and similar blood-clotting agents in 1977, but Japan did not react when the U.S. decision was made public in January 1978.
Hepatitis C is a liver disease most commonly transmitted through contaminated blood. Although the symptoms are relatively mild compared with other types of hepatitis, it can lead to cirrhosis of the liver or liver cancer.
An estimated 2 million people in Japan have hepatitis C, most infected by tainted blood products, medical experts said.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.