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Nagasaki court orders Mitsubishi Heavy to pay damages for shipyard workers' lung diseases

Plaintiffs gather in front of the Nagasaki District Court ahead of the ruling on Nov. 7, 2022. (Mainichi/Hiroyuki Takahashi)

NAGASAKI -- The Nagasaki District Court ordered Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. on Nov. 7 to pay a total of about 122 million yen, or roughly $840,000, in compensation to 20 plaintiffs who claimed that they or their family members developed a lung disease by breathing in dust particles during work at the company's shipyard in the city of Nagasaki.

    A total of 30 plaintiffs had joined the class action, seeking 634 million yen in damages from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. The plaintiffs consist of 13 former workers employed by a subcontractor that carried out work for Mitsubishi Heavy Industries' Nagasaki Shipyard & Machinery Works, and 17 family members of five former subcontract workers who have passed away. The 18 workers performed tasks, including welding, assembling parts, and thermal insulation construction, at the shipyard between 1955 and 2014.

    The Nagasaki District Court ordered the company to pay compensation to 13 of the 18 former workers, on the grounds that they developed pneumoconiosis and other diseases due to work at the shipyard in Nagasaki. In handing down the ruling on Nov. 7, Presiding Judge Hiroyoshi Amakawa pointed out that Mitsubishi Heavy Industries had the obligation to ensure safety among the subcontract workers. The ruling stated that "the company's measures to prevent dust particle exposure taken until around 1990 were insufficient and violated the duty to ensure safety."

    Meanwhile, the claims of the other five former employees were dismissed, as the court concluded that a connection between their work and diseases could not be recognized.

    Plaintiffs enter the Nagasaki District Court while holding portraits of deceased former subcontract workers of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries' Nagasaki Shipyard & Machinery Works, on Nov. 7, 2022. (Mainichi/Hiroyuki Takahashi)

    At a press conference in response to the ruling, Shozo Uozumi, a lawyer heading the administrative office for the plaintiffs' defense team, commented, "It is unjust that all plaintiffs' claims were not recognized. We will file an appeal and want Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to be held responsible at the high court."

    Mitsubishi Heavy Industries released the comment, "We believe that our assertions were acknowledged to a certain degree. We'd like to discuss measures moving forward following a careful examination of the ruling."

    The recent lawsuit is the third class action involving victims of lung disease at Nagasaki Shipyard & Machinery Works. The first suit, which was filed by 77 plaintiffs, comprising former employees and family members of those who were directly employed by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, reached a settlement in 2002. The company agreed to pay 1.28 billion yen in damages. As for another similar case, brought by 39 former employees, including both subcontractors and those directly employed by the company, a Fukuoka High Court ruling ordering Mitsubishi Heavy to pay a total of some 561 million yen was finalized in 2009.

    (Japanese original by Hiroyuki Takahashi and Mio Matsumoto, Nagasaki Bureau)

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