A high court ordered the state and four building material makers Friday to pay 370 million yen in hurts to 62 former construction workers and their bereaved families for illnesses the workers developed due to exposure to asbestos at work sites, in a turnaround from the initial ruling.
The Tokyo High Court ruled the state should have obligated construction workers to wear protective dust masks by 1981 at the latest, saying the state should have known the health risks posed by asbestos by around 1980.
After the ruling, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare’s department in charge of asbestos issues said it was a “harsh” choice. The ministry will choose how to respond after consulting with relevant ministries, it said.
The high court reversed the ruling by the Yokohama District Court, which dismissed the plaintiffs’ demand in 2012, saying the government’s regulations on asbestos cannot be said to have been unreasonable from the standpoint of knowledge at the time.
Of 14 hurts suits filed nationwide related to asbestos exposure at building sites, the ruling on the appeal to the high court marks the third which places responsibility on building supply makers. Two district courts in Kyoto and Yokohama made similar rulings in 2016 and earlier this month, respectively.
A total of 89 plaintiffs, including former carpenters who developed lung cancer and mesothelioma after working at construction sites for decades since around 1960, had sought 2.9 billion yen in hurts from the state and 43 companies which manufactured and sold building materials containing asbestos.
The high court ordered the government and just four of the 43 building materials makers — A&A Material Corp in Yokohama, Nichias Corp and MMK Corp in Tokyo, and Konoshima Co in Osaka — to pay compensation.
The building material makers have denied responsibility, saying it cannot be known which of their products specifically caused illness to each plaintiff.
The government has insisted that the risk of asbestos was not known in the past and that the state took proper steps based on the available information.
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