Tokyo, March 4 (Jiji Press)–Japan’s Supreme Court is expected to hand down a unified ruling by this summer on the government’s liability in three lawsuits filed by evacuees from the 2011 nuclear accident in Fukushima Prefecture, sources familiar with the matter said Friday.
The top court’s Second Petty Bench said it plans to hold hearings on the three damages lawsuits next month, setting a course for the unified ruling.
The ruling is likely to greatly influence roughly 30 similar lawsuits being heard across the country, 11 years after the triple meltdown at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s <9501> tsunami-crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.
The company has been ordered to pay damages totaling 1.4 billion yen to some 3,600 plaintiffs by Sendai High Court and Tokyo High Court in their appeal rulings on the three lawsuits.
The Supreme Court petty bench on Wednesday rejected appeals to the top court by TEPCO, the first decision finalizing the company’s liability to pay damages over the Fukushima accident beyond government standards. The high courts have ordered the government to pay damages in two of the three lawsuits.
The plaintiffs complain that the government failed to exercise its authority to order TEPCO to prepare for a tsunami though it was aware of the risk of a disaster. There are more than 12,000 plaintiffs across the country.
The three lawsuits were filed with the Fukushima, Maebashi and Chiba district courts. In rulings issued between March and October 2017, all three courts found TEPCO liable and ordered it to pay damages beyond government standards. The government was found liable by the Fukushima and Maebashi courts.
The high courts ruled between September 2020 and February 2021 that plaintiffs suffered psychological damage from TEPCO in the form of losses and changes of livelihood, ordering the company to pay compensation in all three lawsuits.
The high courts also ordered the government to pay compensation in the Fukushima and Chiba lawsuits, saying that the state was able to predict risks of a tsunami reaching the power plant and should have instructed the operator to take measures.
In the Maebashi lawsuit, the high court denied government responsibility as the tsunami was unpredictable.
At the Supreme Court, the hearings will be held on April 25 for the Fukushima lawsuit, on April 22 for the Maebashi lawsuit, and on April 15 for the Chiba lawsuit, to seek opinions from both the plaintiffs and the government.
In the past rulings, courts offered different views on the government’s responsibility from the perspectives of the trustworthiness of a long-term tsunami possibility assessment released by a government body in 2002, whether the tsunami was actually predictable, and whether the nuclear accident could have been prevented by taking measures.