An appeal court has dismissed as unreasonable the government’s criteria for judging whether lung cancer suffered by those who were exposed to asbestos at their workplaces for many years is a work-related accident.
The Tokyo High Court on June 27 upheld a Tokyo District Court ruling, which determined that lung cancer that a 61-year-old man suffered is a work-related accident after concluding that he suffered the disease as a result of habitually inhaling asbestos at his workplace.
“The government’s yardstick for recognizing lung cancer as a work-related accident (as a result of inhaling asbestos) is unreasonable,” Presiding Judge Takafumi Okuda said as he dismissed an appeal filed by the government.
Experts say the ruling is expected to have a huge influence on four other similar lawsuits being tried at the Tokyo, Osaka and Kobe district courts.
The man joined a steelmaker in 1973 as an engineer and was engaged in work in which he habitually inhaled asbestos for nearly 11 1/2 years. He was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2003, and filed an application with the labor inspection authorities asking that his disease be recognized as a work-related accident.
In 2007, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry revealed the criteria under which lung cancer should be recognized as a work-related illness if the patient concerned is engaged in work in which they were exposed to asbestos for at least 10 years and if their lungs contain at least 5,000 so-called asbestos bodies per gram of lung tissue.
The labor inspection authorities refused in 2007 to recognize the man’s cancer as a work-related disease on the grounds that his lungs contained only 1,000 asbestos bodies per gram of lung tissue.
Presiding Judge Okuda raised doubts about the criteria. “There are problems with the rationality of the yardstick because the number of asbestos bodies in one’s lungs can disappear as time passes,” the judge said.
Noting that the man had neither smoked nor had any genetic component, Okuda concluded that the lung cancer was caused by his work.
Following the ruling, Takeshi Furukawa, a lawyer for the plaintiff, urged the government to review the way it determines lung cancer patients as victims of asbestos inhalation at their workplaces. “The legal dispute over recognition of a work-related accident has now been settled. The government needs to review its response.”
The plaintiff criticized the government for its criteria.
“There are many patients whose lung cancer hasn’t been recognized as work-related accidents because of the criteria. It took me a long time since I filed an application for recognition of a work-related accident,” he said. “Conditions differ from patient to patient even though they suffer from the same disease. Therefore, I’d believe it’s wrong to determine whether patients’ lung cancer is work-related simply by the number of asbestos bodies contained in their lungs.”