Legal Victory in Tokyo for Construction Workers
Ever since a Japanese Supreme Court decision of May 17, 2021 established the liability of the Japanese Government and building products manufacturers for diseases contracted as a result of asbestos exposures experienced by construction workers, manufacturers have been engaged in a full-scale battle to avoid paying compensation to the injured.1
On May 31, 2023, the Tokyo High Court brought this war of attrition to an end when it ordered four companies A&A Material (Yokohama City), Nichias (Tokyo), MMK (Tokyo) and Taikeiyo Cement (Tokyo) to pay a total of 103.67 million yen (US$741,500) to 22 claimants. The original lawsuit filed by 28 plaintiffs, including workers from Kanagawa Prefecture and bereaved family members, had demanded damages of 693 million yen (US$5m) from six building material manufacturers. One of the original defendants Nozawa (Kobe City) reached a settlement with four plaintiffs earlier this month (May 2023).
According to Judge Yuji Watanabes verdict, medical knowledge about the human health hazards posed by asbestos exposures had been established by around 1972 and there had been a duty for manufacturers to display asbestos warning labels on products since April 1975. The Judge calculated compensation due to individual workers based on their work histories and apportioned the liability amongst defendants based on factors such as their share of the building materials market. 2
At a press conference in Kasumigaseki, Tokyo, after the May 31 Tokyo High Court ruling had been handed down, Attorney Daisuke Tabuchi one of the plaintiffs attorneys said: We are at a stage where it is unacceptable to continue litigation to buy time. I would like each company to take the ruling seriously and take a big step towards a settlement and relief as a whole.3 Successful plaintiff Masayuki Furuno, 78, added: I didn't think it would take this long. During this time, most of the people died.
Commenting on the news, Sugio Furuya, Secretary General of the Japan Occupational Safety and Health Resource Center, said:
Todays verdict is significant not just for the successful claimants and their legal team but for others who have been denied justice as a result of the intransigence of negligent manufacturers of building materials. People suffering from asbestos-related diseases have no time to waste as many of them have life threatening illnesses. We hope that Judges throughout Japan will follow this precedent and take prompt action to deliver justice to all the injured.
June 1, 2023
1 On May 17, 2021, the Supreme Court confirmed that the Government of Japan had been negligent in delaying action on the asbestos hazard and that manufacturers of building products were liable for damage done by occupational exposure to their asbestos-containing products. Seventy per cent of the claimants in the class actions had died of their injuries since the cases were brought. It is noteworthy that the right of self-employed construction workers to claim compensation for asbestos exposures was confirmed by the Supreme Court.
Kazan-Allen, L. Historic Victory for Japans Asbestos Victims. May 20, 2021.
2 建設アスベスト、一部メーカーに賠償命令 東京高裁 [Construction asbestos, some manufacturers ordered to pay compensation by Tokyo High Court]. May 31, 2023.
3 建材メーカー4社に1億円賠償命令 アスベスト訴訟の差し戻し審 [Four building material manufacturers ordered to pay 100 million yen in asbestos litigation]. May 31, 2023.