Japan to Compensate Workers from U.S. Base
On October 7, 2002, seventeen claimants were awarded a total of 231 million yen ($1,860,500) by the Yokohama District Court for asbestos-related lung diseases contracted through occupational exposure at the U.S. naval base in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture. The Japanese Government, which had been responsible for ensuring their safety under the Japan–U.S. Status of Forces Agreement, was ordered to pay up to 25 million yen ($201,500) to each worker. The defence alleged that the Government had asked the U.S. forces to improve the management of hazardous substances at the base in 1975. Appropriate action to protect the workforce was not taken until 1980. Judge Yukio Suyama found for the plaintiffs ruling that: "The Government had a duty to urge the U.S. forces to implement safety measures, but failed to do so."
Nine of the plaintiffs, now 70-84 years old, had carried out repair work on vessels at the Yokosuka base from 1947 until 1992; eight plaintiffs were family members of three deceased workers. This landmark lawsuit, the country’s first ruling on pneumoconiosis cases at a U.S. military facility in Japan, also considered whether the ten year limitation period for this type of case could be waived. The Judge decided that it could; stating that to compensate some plaintiffs but not others would be unfair. After the verdict, plaintiff’s lawyer Takeshi Furukawa said that the Government’s responsibility for securing employees’ safety at U.S. bases had been firmly established.
Although the former employees had been receiving labor accident insurance awards for pneumoconiosis previously, this lawsuit, filed in July, 1999, sought compensation for mental suffering. Twenty-two other employees filed a similar suit in May.
October 11, 2002