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  • Writer's pictureKirk Hartley

Japanese Court Rejects Asbestos Claims by Construction Workers, and Suggests A Compensation Fund App

A trial judge in Japan has issued a ruling rejecting asbestos claims by construction workers. According to a Mainichi article, the ruling suggests consideration of a compensation fund approach. Key excerpts from the article state:

"A court’s dismissal of a lawsuit by former construction workers and families of those who claim they were sickened after being exposed to asbestos at construction sites has highlighted the need for a government framework for compensation for such workers.

The Yokohama District Court on May 25 dismissed a damages suit filed by 87 people — former construction workers and members of the bereaved families of victims of asbestos-related illnesses — against the government and 44 construction material makers. It was one of many class actions filed by about 500 such construction workers across the country, and the first case to be ruled on by a court.


In the past rulings, courts awarded compensation to those who claimed that they were sickened after working at asbestos factories and other workplaces over a long period, recognizing the causal relationship between their exposure to the toxic material and their illnesses.

However, construction workers typically move from one construction site to another over a short period of time. If they have been exposed to asbestos at multiple sites and contracted an illness, it is difficult to specify where and when they were exposed to the fateful dose.

In its May 25 ruling, the Yokohama District Court upheld the government’s claim that the theory that asbestos can cause lung cancer and mesothelioma was established in 1972. However, it was in 1975 that the government enforced regulations on the use of asbestos, such as a ban on spraying it.

The plaintiffs argued that the government was late in enforcing asbestos regulations. However, the court concluded that the delay "did not go beyond accepted limits and cannot be deemed as irrational." The court also asserted that it cannot judge whether the government’s regulations on the use of asbestos in 1976 and later were appropriate because proof presented by the plaintiffs was insufficient. Furthermore, the court dismissed the plaintiffs’ claim that production of materials that included asbestos, even after asbestos-related risks had been confirmed, constituted a joint unlawful act among construction materials makers.

"Questions remain over whether those other than the defendants were responsible for the plaintiffs’ health damage. The plaintiffs failed to sufficiently prove that point," the ruling said.


Still, the ruling pointed out the government’s lack of awareness of the risks involved in construction work using materials containing asbestos. Moreover, the court mentioned the unique working conditions at construction sites and said, "If the plaintiffs have not received sufficient compensation for their health damage, the nation as a whole — which has benefited from construction materials containing asbestos — may be responsible for compensating them." It thus urged the government to consider whether to improve legal regulations on asbestos and introduce a system to compensate victims.

Some of the plaintiffs in the class action suits are urging the government as well as asbestos and construction material manufacturers to set up a fund to extend relief to those sickened after exposure to the material "so that the victims don’t have to launch damages suits."

The number of patients with asbestos-related diseases is feared to increase as the symptoms of such illnesses appear after an often decades-long incubation period.

The government should take the latest court ruling’s view seriously and launch concrete action to create a system to compensate victims. (emphasis added)

As the specifics of the ruling, an online story is here states the following on the specifics:

"YOKOHAMA (Jiji Press)–The Yokohama District Court on Friday rejected a damages claim led by former construction workers suffering from lung cancer and other health problems due to asbestos at construction sites.

The former workers were among the 87 plaintiffs who filed the suit seeking 2.89 billion yen in damages from the government and 44 construction material makers. The plaintiffs also included the bereaved families of workers who died after developing health problems.

The Yokohama case was the first to receive a ruling in a series of similar damages suits filed in recent years by asbestos victims in places including Tokyo, Hokkaido and Osaka prefectures.

A key point in the suits is whether the government and construction material makers should be held responsible for health problems developed by independent contract workers who worked at many construction sites.

Most asbestos damages suits are filed against the operators of asbestos-handling plants by those who had worked there. In that case it is easier to establish a relationship between the disease and the workplace environment.

In the Yokohama suit, the plaintiffs claimed the government should have been aware of the danger of asbestos by 1965 at the latest. But the government promoted the use of asbestos by maintaining its designation as a noncombustible construction material under the building code, according to the plaintiffs.

However, Friday’s ruling, written by presiding Judge Toshiko Eguchi, upheld the government’s view that medical knowledge of the danger of asbestos was established in Japan in 1972, when an international organization clearly noted the risks.

The treatment of asbestos in the building code at the time should not be considered illegal, according to the ruling read by Judge Susumu Aoki, who acted on behalf of Eguchi.

The government did not take specific steps to limit the use of asbestos in construction, but it did take action to regulate the use of the hazardous material, the ruling noted.

The plaintiffs claimed the 44 companies should be held responsible as a single offender as they effectively worked together to manufacture and distribute construction materials that contained asbestos.

The ruling disagreed, saying the companies should not be treated as a single offender because they produced different types of asbestos-containing materials over different periods."

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