Prolonged court battle over evacuees’ damage compensation worrying

The Yomiuri Shimbun It is a judicial judgment that has recognized for the first time the liability arising from the negligence of the central government and Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. over the nuclear accident at the utility’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

In the trial, in which 137 plaintiffs, including residents of Gunma Prefecture who evacuated from Fukushima Prefecture, demanded compensation and other recompense, the Maebashi District Court ordered the government and TEPCO to pay them a total of about ¥38 million.

The ruling can be considered to be one that will cause the gravity of the unprecedented accident to be recognized once again.

Could a massive tsunami like the one that caused the accident have been foreseen? Regarding the biggest point of contention, the ruling clearly recognized that it was foreseeable and demonstrated the view that the accident could have been prevented by taking measures in advance.

TEPCO had estimated the possibility of a tsunami as high as over 15 meters, based on a long-term evaluation of seismic activity released by the government in 2002. This is one reason why the ruling concluded that the accident could have been foreseen.

Opinions differ even among experts as to whether the accident could have been foreseen.

When prosecutors initially decided not to indict any of the top executives of TEPCO or other officials against whom complaints had been filed seeking indictment for their criminal responsibility, the prosecutors denied that the massive tsunami could have been foreseen, on the basis of the results of hearings of seismologists.

The district court drew its conclusion by interpreting the requirements for negligence less strictly. This clearly demonstrates the difference in the hurdles between civil suits and criminal trials in terms of deeming that the tsunami was foreseeable.

Address individual cases

The ruling said that nuclear hazards are characterized by the fact that “the legal benefits infringed upon are extremely important, and people are adversely affected over a wide area.” The ruling criticized the government, saying that although it “was expected to prevent the accident by properly exercising its regulatory authority,” it had failed to wield this authority.

This can be considered to be a court decision that takes a serious view of the unusual nature of the nuclear power plant accident.

The lengthening of the court battle is worrying. TEPCO has been paying damages to evacuees and other residents in accordance with the interim guidelines of the government’s screening committee on compensation disputes over damage from nuclear accidents. The guidelines have been functioning as a yardstick for smoothly advancing compensation for damage.

Many of those residents have already been receiving compensation through negotiations with TEPCO or through the government’s alternative dispute resolution (ADR) procedures or otherwise.

The Maebashi District Court ordered an increase in compensation to 62 of the plaintiffs. Among the 62 were, besides people who used to live in areas where evacuation orders were issued, people who evacuated on their own from places outside such areas.

A total of 28 such collective lawsuits have been filed across the country, including one filed with the Maebashi District Court. There may be no denying that by taking advantage of the latest ruling, a lawsuit can be filed even by people who have reached a settlement through the ADR procedures or otherwise. A situation in which a judicial decision would lead to yet another conflict should be avoided.

Needless to say, both the government and TEPCO are obliged to support the lives of the victims, as a serious accident occurred. Besides compensation, both are required to address the individual circumstances of victims, such as employment.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 20, 2017)Speech


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