The government plans to basically accept a court proposal for the state to pay ¥500,000 to each asymptomatic hepatitis B virus carrier believed to have been infected during nationwide group vaccinations, four Cabinet ministers said Wednesday.
“We agreed to faithfully consider the court proposal,” Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Ritsuo Hosokawa told reporters after his meeting with Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku, national policy minister Koichiro Gemba and Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda.
The Sapporo District Court made the proposal Tuesday during court-mediated settlement negotiations between the state and five plaintiffs from Hokkaido. Whether to cover asymptomatic carriers was the most controversial point of the settlement package.
If the government accepts the proposal, payment is expected to exceed ¥3 trillion, compared with the original plan of paying some ¥2 trillion for hepatitis B sufferers, government sources said.
The government will have to consider how it will raise the financial resources for the bigger-than-expected damages payment, as well as a special law to help hepatitis B sufferers and carriers, they said.
A total of 621 people have filed damage suits since March 2008 with 10 district courts. The plaintiffs argue the government should have stopped group vaccinations in cases where needles were used repeatedly.
Last March, the Sapporo District Court was the first to urge the parties to reach a settlement.
Issuing the first judicial view in the series of lawsuits over the infections from group vaccinations, the court also called on the state to pay between ¥12.5 million and ¥36 million to those who have developed hepatitis B, depending on their condition.
The plaintiffs and their lawyers will hold a meeting in Tokyo on Jan. 22 to make an official decision on the proposal, and are expected to accept the offer, saying it will cover all of the plaintiffs in the series of lawsuits.
The next round of negotiations will be held Feb. 15.
The government has so far denied carriers who do not show symptoms of the disease the right to claim compensation on grounds that the statutory limit of 20 years has passed since the vaccinations took place, and instead proposed offering subsidies for medical checkups.
Against this backdrop, the district court’s determination had been the main focus of the settlement negotiations, which began last May before similar suits filed at other courts by victims of the vaccinations.
In presenting the proposal Tuesday, presiding Judge Shunichi Ishibashi said the payments of ¥500,000 should be regarded as “expenses for past regular medical checkups.”
Aside from settlement and subsidies for checkups, the court also urged the state to make payments to individuals of up to ¥30,000 a year to cover transportation and other expenses incurred in undergoing health checkups.
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