Japanese court rejects damages claim by unrecognized Minamata disease sufferers

A court in southwestern Japan has rejected a damages claim by more than 140 people who are not covered by the government's relief measures for Minamata disease.

The Kumamoto District Court dismissed the claim on Friday.

The 144 plaintiffs had each demanded compensation of 4.5 million yen, or about 30,000 dollars, from the central government, the Kumamoto prefectural government and Chisso, the company responsible for the disease caused by mercury poisoning.

The plaintiffs are mainly from the cities of Minamata and Amakusa in Kumamoto Prefecture and Izumi City in Kagoshima Prefecture, and are in their 50s to 100s.

They say it is unjust that they are not covered by the special measures law aimed at providing relief to those who have symptoms of the disease but are not recognized as patients.

Chief Justice Shinagawa Hideki said 25 of the plaintiffs have Minamata disease, but too much time has passed for them to be able to claim damages.

The special measures law stipulates that people need to have lived in the area near Minamata Bay for more than one year and to have been born by the end of November 1969 to be eligible for the measures. The plaintiffs questioned the adequacy of these conditions in the court hearings.

Last year, the Osaka District Court recognized a different group of plaintiffs as Minamata disease sufferers and ordered the central government and other parties to pay compensation. That was the first ruling among group lawsuits of its kind.