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The government and nearly 1,000 former tunnel workers who contracted lung diseases while working on state-ordered construction projects will probably agree to settle this month, ending a series of lawsuits demanding 3.2 billion yen in damages from the government, sources said Wednesday.

The government, which is losing the legal battle, is likely to agree to draft tougher measures to prevent pneumoconiosis, a disease caused by breathing in excessive dust that hardens and eventually kills cells in the lungs.

The measures would include mandatory assessment of dust density at tunnel construction sites and shorter working hours, government sources said.

In return, the plaintiffs — some 960 former workers nationwide and their relatives, or kin of deceased workers — will give up the right to claim damages totaling 3.2 billion yen for their suffering, the sources said.

Many of the plaintiffs have already won compensation from former employers in separate lawsuits.

Arrangements are now under way for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to meet the plaintiffs’ representatives as early as Friday, when he is expected to offer his condolences.

After meeting with Abe, the representatives will try to cement an agreement with the related ministries and, if successful, formally settle the suits during oral proceedings at the Tokyo High Court on June 20, the sources said.

After the settlement in Tokyo, plaintiffs in other regions will settle their respective suits at the local or regional level, thereby putting an end to the lung disease case, according to the sources.

The revised pneumoconiosis prevention regulations are expected to include regular assessment of dust density, distribution of special dust masks to workers, and rules obliging workers to wear the masks and ventilate the sites.

The government may also decide to reduce working hours at tunnel sites.

The first of the lawsuits against the state was filed with the Tokyo District Court in November 2002, seeking 3.3 million yen for each plaintiff, and similar suits have been filed at 11 district courts across the country.

So far, five courts have acknowledged the government’s liability and ordered compensation. But the plaintiffs were aiming to achieve a more fundamental resolution to the issue in hopes that the government will accept its responsibility for their suffering.

The ruling coalition, led by the Liberal Democratic Party and junior partner New Komeito, have set up special project teams to address the lung disease issue.

Many of the plaintiffs were employed to dig tunnels for government-consigned railroads, highways and dams as Japan went through its rapid economic growth, including the bubble economy.

The plaintiffs either lost their jobs after developing the disease or developed it after retirement.

For related stories:

State loses fourth damages suit filed by tunnel workers with lung disease
State must pay again for more lung disease


Workers sue contractors for ‘black lung’ disease

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