Ex-U.S. base workers win black-lung lawsuit

Former employees of the U.S. Navy Yokosuka Base (Kanagawa Prefecture) on October 7 won a lawsuit against their employer, the Japanese government, arguing that they conducted asbestos-related lung disease because the state neglected to instruct the U.S. Navy to take preventive measures against asbestos dust.

The Yokohama District Court Yokosuka Branch ordered the state to pay all 17 plaintiffs 231 million yen in compensation for failure to supervise U.S. steps against asbestos dust on the base and to take needed action. By ruling that it is an "abusive use of rights," the court rejected the state's argument that the right to seek compensation has a 10-year time limit so the case is invalid.

The case was the first among other lung-asbestosis lawsuits that the Japanese government was the defendant over U.S. military bases in Japan. The plaintiffs said that the decision, acknowledging the fault of the state, was "epoch-making."

The plaintiffs were nine former employees aged between 70 and 84, and eight bereaved family members. The ex-workers engaged in warship repairs on the U.S. Yokosuka base from the 1940s to 1992 and got black-lung disease by absorbing asbestos-laden air for years. (end)