KUMAMOTO – The Kumamoto District Court on Friday ordered the state to pay about ¥370 million in damages to family members of former leprosy patients — the first ruling awarding compensation to patients’ relatives for having suffered discrimination as a result of the disease.
The court ruled in favor of 561 family members of former leprosy patients across the country who said they faced discrimination due to the stigma of their relatives having being isolated in sanitariums under the government’s decadeslong segregation policy.
Leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, is now curable.
A 2001 court ruling found the policy, implemented under the Leprosy Prevention Law in effect from 1907 to 1996, to be unconstitutional.
The state has since launched a system of compensation for former leprosy patients, regardless of whether they had been isolated in sanitariums, as well as their families.
But only those who were diagnosed with the disease were recognized as having suffered discrimination.
The government maintained the plaintiffs themselves had not been isolated and thus the government did not directly promote discrimination or prejudice against them. The state also claimed that the statute of limitations for seeking damages had already expired.
In its ruling, the Kumamoto court deemed as illegal the fact that the state had retained the law until 1996 and rejected the government claim on the statute of limitations.
The lawsuit was filed in 2016 with the court, seeking ¥5.5 million per person in damages.
In September 2015, the Tottori District Court rejected a damages claim by a son of a female leprosy patient who did not enter a sanitariums before her death in 1994, saying the three-year statute of limitations for seeking damages after a 2002 accord between the state and leprosy patients on compensation had already expired.
The court said that only patients had faced discrimination and their relatives had not, but at the same time ruled that the state should have taken steps to eliminate social discrimination against children of patients by 1960 at the latest.
In July last year, the Matsue branch of the Hiroshima High Court upheld the Tottori court’s decision.
The son has appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court.