YOKOHAMA – The government and two manufacturers of construction materials were found liable for ¥306 million in damages over asbestos-related health problems, according to a ruling by the Yokohama District Court on Tuesday.
Presiding judge Yuko Otake said the state failed to put adequate asbestos regulations in place, and that the two firms neglected their duty to indicate asbestos use in their products.
In the case, 61 former construction workers and relatives of deceased workers sued for ¥1.68 billion in damages, claiming the state and 43 manufacturers were responsible for conditions at building sites where workers were exposed to inhaled toxic substances linked to the development of lung cancer.
Otake said that the government should have been able to recognize the danger of asbestos by 1974 at the latest, adding that since 1976, manufacturers have been obligated to put warnings labels on products that contain asbestos.
The judge pointed out that damages can be awarded in cases where the asbestos in a product is strongly suspected to cause health damage.
Of the 43 firms in the lawsuit, Kobe-based Nozawa Corp. was ordered to pay close to ¥90 million in total to eight plaintiffs, and Tokyo-based Nichias Corp. was liable for a total of about ¥18 million to two plaintiffs.
Collective damages lawsuits over asbestos have been filed with six district courts.
The latest court decision is the second to recognize manufacturers’ responsibility. An earlier verdict was handed down by the Kyoto District Court in January 2016. The state was held responsible in all cases but one.
“I’m happy about the ruling, Hiromichi Nakayama, a 64-year-old former tile worker and one of the plaintiffs, told a news conference after the Yokohama court decision.
He added, “I want the case to be fully resolved as early as possible,” noting that some of his fellow workers have died.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs, while welcoming the ruling, will likely move forward to file an appeal because the court granted damages to some but not all of the complainants.
An health ministry official handling asbestos-related issues said it was a “tough ruling,” adding that the ministry will decide its response after a full review and consultation with related government agencies.
An official of Nozawa’s general administration division expressed regret over the ruling, saying it confirmed corporate responsibility for asbestos damage.
A public relations official of Nichias said it is regrettable that the court did not accept part of the company’s claim.