TOKUSHIMA – The Tokushima District Court ordered the government Wednesday to pay 57.2 million yen in damages to 26 people who contracted pneumoconiosis through government tunnel construction projects, marking the fourth straight loss in similar lawsuits filed with 11 district courts so far.
Like the three earlier rulings, the court recognized that the state failed in its responsibility to prevent tunnel workers from developing the chronic respiratory disease, which is mainly caused by the long-term inhalation of mineral dust.
“The state failed to set ordinances stating the necessity to spray water and take other measures when the pneumoconiosis law was enacted in 1960,” said presiding Judge Masayuki Abe in handing down the ruling.
Decisions over when the state began bearing that responsibility has varied in previous rulings, with one putting it at 1960 and the other two saying around 1986, when mechanical drilling gained widespread use in construction.
The patients in the latest suit sought between 3.3 million yen and 33 million yen in damages each, claiming the state failed to measure the amount of dust, limit working hours and other measures to prevent them from getting sick. They said the state is responsible as a party that commissioned the projects.
Pneumoconiosis causes severe breathing problems and coughing, and is sometimes accompanied by tuberculosis or lung cancer.
The state argued that it properly supervised the projects and denied its responsibility as an ordering party. It also claimed that a plaintiff’s right to seek damages expires after three years. Pneumoconiosis and other severe lung complications can incubate for several years before becoming pronounced.
Some of the 26 patients also sued the general contractors that built the tunnels, reaching a 200 million yen settlement in November.
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