Mitsui admits its fault in miners' lung disease lawsuits

Mitsui Mining Co., Ltd. and Mitsui Coal Mining Co., Ltd. are expected to accept an out-of-court settlement in six lawsuits that 456 plaintiffs are demanding compensation for former miners who suffer from pneumoconiosis.

The settlement is historically meaningful to end criminal behavior of offending enterprises.

According to Akahata of July 30, both plaintiffs and the offenders will sign a declaration on August 1 to close the lawsuits.

By the declaration, Mitsui will admit its responsibility for causing the lung disorder, apologize to the victims, promise to take preventive measures, and pay more than 8.1 billion yen (about 68 million dollars) in settlements fees.

In 1985, 684 pulmonary patients filed lawsuits against the government and mining companies. For 17 years since then, Mitsui has kept refusing reconciliations by courts. 305 of the initial plaintiffs have died, so their bereaved families are now part of the plaintiff group.

In autumn 1998, three courts ordered Mitsui to accept a settlement but the Mitsui president himself went down to the court to give Mitsui's refusal. The following year, the Sapporo District Court, one of the three courts, severely condemned Mitsui for such arrogant behavior, and garnished the desk and tables from the president's room at Mitsui headquarters. Mitsui, however, immediately appealed to the Sapporo High Court without reading the verdict. Since then, the mining giant has kept refusing everything: issuing an apology to the patients, visiting their families at hospitals to express sympathy, or to visit the survivors recuperating at home.

Furukawa Co., Ltd., Mitsubishi Materials Corporation, and Sumitomo Coal Mining Co., Ltd. had already accepted a settlement mediated by the courts, and Mitsui will accept the settlement this time. However, the rest of the offenders, the government, and Nittetsu Mining Co., Ltd. will carry on with the suits.

Pneumoconiosis is a lung disease caused by inhaling a large amount of dust from coal, metals, or rocks which cannot be discharged from the lungs. This is the oldest and worst industrial disease that is still incurable by modern medicine. The labor ministry's statistics show that more than 1,000 patients every year become officially recognized as patients with this severe disease. (end)