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Japanese Asbestos Exposure Cases Hold Government Responsible

As asbestos companies continue to be held responsible for the damage that they have caused in the United States, the trend is carrying over to other major industrial countries around the world. Most recently the Osaka High Court in Japan decided that the Japanese government should be held responsible for their failure to protect numerous employees from having been exposed to asbestos.

It has been widely established for decades that asbestos exposure causes a number of serious and sometimes fatal diseases, including lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma. The High Court’s decision included an order of compensation for damages totaling 340 million yen. The decision was a landmark, as the high court has never before indicated that the government could be held responsible for exposing workers to asbestos.

The history-making case involved nearly five dozen plaintiffs who had worked in asbestos spinning mills. As a strong and durable material, asbestos was often directly spun into textiles during the industrial revolution, and those who worked converting the raw materials into cloth had dramatically high levels of exposure to the toxic fiber.  Many of them have been sickened over the years as a result of inhaling and ingesting asbestos fibers and dust while at work. In some cases their family members were also sickened by asbestos dust that they carried home on their skin, hair and clothes.  In the case of the Osaka case, the workers sued because they felt that the government did not work quickly enough to remove asbestos from the workplace after asbestos’ danger was established. Of the 58 workers who sued, 33 of them have been diagnosed with asbestos, lung cancer or mesothelioma, and several died previous to the court handing down its decision. A previous ruling made by the Osaka District Court had only awarded the group 180 million yen, about half what the Superior Court awarded.

Other asbestos cases are currently being heard in Japan, including one regarding factories that were located in Osaka that is awaiting an appeal decision by the Supreme Court. The appealed decision had reversed a district court’s ruling about the government being responsible for asbestos exposure. Yet another case in the Tokyo District Court held the government and dozens of Japanese companies responsible for having neglected to impose safety measures for the protection of employees. That case awarded over 1.06 billion yen to victims, well shy of the 12 billion that the 337 plaintiffs were seeking.

Terri Oppenheimer

Terri Oppenheimer is an independent writer, editor and proofreader. She graduated from the College of William and Mary with a degree in English. Her dreams of a writing career were diverted by a need to pay her bills. She spent a few years providing copy for a major retailer, then landed a lucrative career in advertising sales. With college bills for all three of her kids paid, she left corporate America for a return to her original goal of writing. She specializes in providing content for websites and finds tremendous enjoyment in the things she learns while doing her research. Her specific areas of interest include health and fitness, medical research, and the law.

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