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Legal action not an option for vast majority of Fukushima’s nuclear victims

Victims and lawyers in Japan say the dearth of nuclear-related suits reflects both a national mindset — a distaste for confrontation — and a stunted judicial system that doesn’t allow for class-action cases or punitive damages. Japanese speak of the court system as more likely to deliver frustration than vengeance, and jobless evacuees who urgentlyneed money have little appetite for long trials with uncertain outcomes.

Without the threat of legal action, ……”the state and companies can take advantage of victims.” 

Nuclear redress will never approximate losses, By CHICO HARLAN, The Washington Post, 26 June 12, It was 15 months ago that the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant suffered three meltdowns and contaminated a broad circle of countryside and left hundreds of thousands of people without homes, jobs or both. But for all the damage and despair it wrought, the disaster so far has unfolded without one conventional element: a widespread and contentious legal fight by those who say they should be compensated for their losses.

Victims of the worst nuclear crisis in a quarter-century have filed roughly 20 lawsuits against Tokyo Electric Power Co., according to the utility. That compares with the several hundred suits filed against BP within weeks of the 2010 Gulf oil spill, including the near-finalized settlement of a class-action suit that will pay 120,000 plaintiffs upward of $7.8 billion. BP also paid out some $6.2 billion to victims via a neutral claims settlement process, administered by a lawyer appointed by the Obama administration.

Victims and lawyers in Japan say the dearth of nuclear-related suits reflects both a national mindset — a distaste for confrontation — and a stunted judicial system that doesn’t allow for class-action cases or punitive damages. Japanese speak of the court system as more likely to deliver frustration than vengeance, and jobless evacuees who urgentlyneed money have little appetite for long trials with uncertain outcomes.

Instead, the vast majority of victims of the Fukushima crisis turn to
one of two other options, one led by Tepco, the other by the central
government — the two institutions most often blamed for the disaster.

More than nine of 10 evacuees who say the disaster harmed them have
taken their claims directly to Tepco. Those who don’t want to deal
with Tepco or who reject the company’s compensation offer can head to
a government-created mediation center, which was established by law in
the aftermath of the nuclear accident.

Neither route, legal experts say, offers victims much leverage.
Typical of a country that sees itself as uniformly middle-class,
payouts are adequate but rarely ample. Tepco’s average payout so far
to individuals is about ¥1.92 million ($24,000), according to company
data. That figure, though, is certain to grow as claimants come back a
second and even third time with further evidence of damage, including
property losses.

Without the threat of legal action, said Hiroyuki Kawai, a Tokyo-based
lawyer handling one of the few lawsuits filed against Tepco, “the
state and companies can take advantage of victims.” …
For victims who do want to file lawsuits, options are limited. That’s
because of a special nuclear accident law, drafted 51 years ago, that
limits liability to the atomic plant operator, preventing claimants
from targeting, say, reactor manufacturers, including Toshiba or
General Electric. The law also prevents individuals from being held
liable, effectively blocking suits in this case against executives or
workers at Tepco.

The law, experts say, is designed to “maintain order” during
mass-scale nuclear disasters. But it also reinforces a feeling of
nationwide blamelessness, a notion echoed by Prime Minister Yoshihiko
Noda in March, when he said no individuals should beheld liable for
the crisis……
http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/nn20120627a3.html#.T-topxfZ7D8

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June 27, 2012 - Posted by | Japan, Legal, Reference

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