TOKYO — U.S. Forces Japan has agreed to pay part of a settlement to a group of Japanese former base workers who contracted lung problems after repairing ships at Yokosuka Naval Base, a Defense Facilities Administration Agency spokesman said Tuesday.

USFJ agreed to pay about 194 million yen (about $1.77 million), half of a settlement the Japanese government awarded 26 former workers who filed second and third class-action lawsuits that were settled in November 2004 and May 2005, respectively, the spokesman said.

Other workers have filed lawsuits but USFJ was asked to pay its share only for the 26 former workers whose lawsuits were settled, the spokesman said.

The Japanese government asked USFJ to pay for the 26 workers since they filed claims within the three-year statute of limitation recognized in Status of Forces Agreement guidelines, the spokesman said.

USFJ referred all queries to DFAA.

Three lawsuits have been filed against the Japanese government and 41 workers have received money from the Japanese government after either winning their lawsuit or reaching a settlement.

Japanese officials requested USFJ pay part of the settlement in December 2004 after the second class-action suit and in June after the third class-action suit reached a settlement, the DFAA spokesman said. USFJ told the Japanese government at the end of July that they would pay, the spokesman said.

The DFAA’s requests came as regular procedures the Japanese government takes in such cases, the spokesman said. SOFA guidelines determine respective liability. They state, “Where Japan and the United States are responsible for the damage, the amount awarded or adjudged shall be distributed equally between them.”

Whether payment should be incurred for other victims, including workers in the first-class action suit, is still being discussed, the spokesman said.

Juliana Gittler contributed to this report.

Previous payouts

Three years ago, the Yokohama District Court awarded about 230 million yen (about $2.2 million) to a group of nine former workers and bereaved families of three workers in the first ruling on an asbestos case involving a U.S. military base. However, the Japanese government appealed the decision to the Tokyo High Court, which overturned part of it. Saying the statute of limitations had expired for five plaintiffs, it reduced the amount by about 80 million yen (about $755,000). Three plaintiffs appealed but their appeals were rejected by the Supreme Court.

A second group of former workers settled with the Japanese government in November 2004 when officials agreed to pay about 300 million yen (about $2.73 million) for 20 former workers and the bereaved family of one worker.

A third group of workers reached a settlement with the Japanese government in May after the officials agreed to pay approximately $2.2 million to five former workers and bereaved families of six workers.

DFAA paid compensation to three former workers and their families in 1997.

One former worker and the family of another worker were compensated a total of about $330,000 in April after they filed claims to the Japanese government in 1999 based on the U.S.-Japan status of forces agreement. The U.S. government incurred half of the payment. The seven other workers filed claims. Six dropped their claims — most were plaintiffs in the lawsuits that have been settled — the payment process is under way for the seventh one.

author picture
Hana Kusumoto is a reporter/translator who has been covering local authorities in Japan since 2002. She was born in Nagoya, Japan, and lived in Australia and Illinois growing up. She holds a journalism degree from Boston University and previously worked for the Christian Science Monitor’s Tokyo bureau.

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