Bill for fund to settle lawsuits over A-bomb disease certification enacted

by Kohei Okata, Staff Writer

On December 1, a bill that will enable the Japanese government to give financial assistance to a fund designed to provide relief for defeated plaintiffs of the class action lawsuits over A-bomb disease certification was approved at the Lower House and enacted into law. The law will take effect on April 1 of next year. A course was set to settle the class action lawsuits, which have been fought over six and half years, by providing "relief to all plaintiffs," which the plaintiffs have appealed for.

The bill for the fund was first approved at the Committee on Health, Labour and Welfare at the Lower House and was quickly submitted to the Lower House plenary session, where it was unanimously approved. The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which has refused to attend the Diet session due to a disagreement with the ruling parties over Diet proceedings, boycotted the session.

The law stipulates that the government can grant a subsidy to a corporate body or an incorporated foundation which will undertake support activities for the plaintiffs and that the subsidy will be used for the fund. The government will effectively provide the settlement money for the defeated plaintiffs. Donations to the fund from private sectors will be accepted as well. The subsidy is expected to be 300 million yen, for which the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare will make an additional request in the fiscal 2010 budget to the Ministry of Finance. A supplementary provision of the law also calls for further consideration and the revision of the government's A-bomb disease certification system.

By the time the law takes effect, the Japan Confederation of A- and H-bomb Sufferers Organizations and the nationwide groups of plaintiffs and lawyers involved in the class action lawsuits over A-bomb disease certification will finalize the details, including the operations of the corporate body and the specific amount of the settlement money for each plaintiff. The plaintiffs will then make decisions as to whether to appeal their court rulings and whether to drop their appeals. Among 306 plaintiffs, 15 plaintiffs who have lost their cases in court are not recognized as A-bomb disease sufferers by the government. Meanwhile, 43 plaintiffs who are unrecognized as A-bomb disease sufferers are waiting for the initial trial. The lawsuits are expected to end in around 2011, and the number of the potential recipients of the fund is estimated to be about 30 at most.

Regarding the class action lawsuits over A-bomb disease certification, the plaintiffs won 19 straight lawsuits up to August of this year. They have called on the government to "extend relief to all plaintiffs," including the defeated plaintiffs, in order to "make a contribution to the review of the government's procedures involving A-bomb disease certification." In the note of confirmation exchanged on August 6 in Hiroshima, the government and the plaintiffs set a framework to conclude the lawsuits by agreeing: 1) that the government would recognize the plaintiffs who had won the initial trial as A-bomb disease sufferers and 2) that if the plaintiffs lost their cases, the settlement money would be provided by the fund. Following the agreement, seven lawsuits, including the lawsuit filed by the first group of plaintiffs in Hiroshima, have been settled. The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), the LDP, and New Komeito have attempted to enact the bill for the fund during the current Diet session.

Major points of law for fund to settle lawsuits over A-bomb disease certification

--The law stipulates necessary matters for the fund designed to resolve grievances of the plaintiffs in line with the note of confirmation, which was signed by the government and the plaintiffs last August in consideration of the fact that the class action lawsuits have extended over a long period of time and the plaintiffs have reached advanced ages.

--The government will provide financial assistance for the corporate body that will undertake support activities to resolve grievances of the plaintiffs.

--The corporate body will appropriate the government's contribution and the financial assistance for the plaintiffs by non-governmental sectors for the fund.

--The necessary expenses are expected to be around 300 million yen.

--The law will take effect on April 1, 2010.

A-bomb disease certification and the class action lawsuits
Based on the Atomic Bomb Survivors Relief Law, medical experts conduct a screening of application materials for A-bomb disease certification, examining how much treatment the diseases require (the need for treatment) and the connection between the diseases and the radiation caused by the atomic bombings (the possibility that the diseases have been induced by radiation). The minister of Health, Labor and Welfare then gives the government's recognition, depending on the case. The government provides a monthly special medical allowance of about 137,000 yen for A-bomb disease sufferers. The A-bomb disease certification criteria, by which the claims of the plaintiffs of the class action lawsuits were dismissed, used "probability of cause" as a key concept, in which the estimated dose of radiation played a major role as well as the age of the plaintiffs at the time of the bombing. The number of atomic bomb survivors (hibakusha) who were recognized as A-bomb disease sufferers was less than one percent of all hibakusha. As "the reality of the atomic bombing is not reflected" in this criteria, the Japan Confederation of the A- and H-bomb Sufferers Organizations has led hibakusha to file the class action lawsuits with 17 district courts since April 2003. The Japanese government revised the A-bomb disease certification criteria and introduced the current criteria in April 2008, and the annual number of hibakusha recognized as A-bomb disease sufferers increased by 23 times compared to the previous fiscal year.

(Originally published on December 2, 2009)