¥77 million for base asbestos death

YOKOSUKA, Kanagawa Pref. (Kyodo) The Yokohama District Court ordered the government Monday to pay about ¥77 million to the family of a deceased man who developed mesothelioma after being exposed to asbestos while working at the U.S. naval base in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture.

Presiding Judge Haruhiko Sakae of the Yokosuka branch of the district court ruled the government and the U.S. military neglected to take necessary safety measures, such as having workers wear protective masks.

Sakae also said the government was aware of instances of asbestos-related health hazards before Hitoshi Taima began working at the base in 1977.

“I hope the government and the U.S. military implement preventive measures so that no other workers will fall victim to asbestos-related diseases after being exposed to asbestos at work,” said Taima’s widow, Mieko, 53.

According to the court, Taima was exposed to asbestos in insulation filling while fixing and setting up air conditioners as an engineer at the base between 1977 and 1995.

The lawsuit had demanded ¥94 million in compensation from the government, which was his employer for the U.S. base work.

Taima was diagnosed with mesothelioma in April 2006 and died in May 2007 at age 51. Before passing away, Taima filed the lawsuit against the government based on the U.S. Navy’s decision in March 2007 that recognized his case as illness and injury suffered in the course of carrying out one’s job duties, according to his family.

Taima’s family succeeded him as plaintiff after his death.

The civil law regarding the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement defines Japan, the employer, as liable for accidents or health problems of workers who work at U.S. bases, rather than the U.S. side, the user of the facilities.