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TEPCO ordered to pay 22 mil yen over dementia patient missing in Fukushima crisis

The Tokyo District Court ordered Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) on Aug. 10 to pay about 22 million yen in compensation to the family of a dementia patient who went missing from a hospital shortly after the outbreak of the disaster at TEPCO's Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

    A woman with dementia, an in-patient at Futaba Hospital in the Fukushima Prefecture town of Okuma near the nuclear plant, went missing a few days after the outbreak of the nuclear crisis on March 11, 2011. She was 88 years old at that time. The family of the woman demanded TEPCO pay 44 million yen in compensation.

    Handing down the ruling, Presiding Judge Yuko Mizuno said, "If the accident hadn't occurred, hospital staff would have been able to keep a close eye on the woman because they wouldn't have had to evacuate." According to a lawyer for the plaintiffs, it is the first judicial ruling that has recognized a causal relationship between the Fukushima nuclear disaster and a missing person case.

    TEPCO has broadly admitted responsibility for the deaths of hospital patients during the evacuation of the areas around the nuclear plant. But in the case of the dementia patient, the utility has denied any responsibility to pay compensation and fought a court battle against the woman's family, arguing that "the causal relationship between the accident and the missing woman cannot be recognized." The woman was declared missing and legally dead by a court in 2013.

    According the latest ruling, it was confirmed that the woman was in the hospital on the afternoon of March 14, 2011, but her whereabouts have been unknown since. The Tokyo District Court assumed in the ruling that the woman had died after going out the front door of the hospital, which Self-Defense Forces personnel used to rescue patients and other people after hospital staff evacuated. The court judged that hospital staff would have been able to prevent the woman from leaving if the nuclear accident had not occurred, stating, "Hospital staff were paying close attention to the risk of patients going outside in ordinary times."

    The woman's family demanded 40 million yen in consolation money. But as with the four other lawsuits (already finalized) filed with the Tokyo District Court against TEPCO by the families of patients at the hospital who died in the wake of the nuclear disaster, the court deemed about 20 million yen appropriate -- about the same amount for a road traffic death. In those four cases, the court then reduced the amounts of compensation by 20 to 40 percent due to the patients' chronic ailments. However, in the ruling on the dementia patient, the court ordered TEPCO to pay the full amount, saying, "The woman died as a result of the emergence of exceptional circumstances which made it impossible for hospital staff to provide assistance to or keep an eye on the woman, because of the (nuclear) accident and because local residents left."

    Fumio Shinkai, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said in a statement, "The court respectfully recognized the causal relationship. When it comes to thinking of the feelings of the family who cannot even see the body (of the woman), it is regrettable that the amount of compensation we insisted on has not been accepted."

    The woman's 71-year-old niece, who lives in Saitama Prefecture, said, "I sometimes think that she may be living somewhere even today, but the case has been resolved for me psychologically as TEPCO's responsibility was recognized. I think my aunt is also satisfied."

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