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Sailors Fight to Keep Fukushima Radiation Case in US

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SAN DIEGO (CN) – Former Senator John Edwards and his co-counsel on Thursday asked a federal judge not to transfer to Japan a class action by hundreds of U.S. sailors exposed to radiation in the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
An initial group of sailors sued Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TepCo) and General Electric in 2012. A second class action from sailors sent to render aid after the earthquake and tsunami was filed in San Diego Federal Court last August.
The March 11, 2011 tsunami caused the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant to shut down, but loss of circulation water coolant led to meltdowns and explosions whose radioactive releases may not be completely cleaned up for centuries.
More than 420 U.S. service members in the two cases seek compensation and medical monitoring, testing and health care costs for exposure to radiation. Some sailors have died from complications of radiation exposure since the cases were filed, and more than 20 are living with cancer, according to the lawsuits.
U.S. District Judge Janis Sammartino on Thursday considered motions to dismiss from TepCo and GE. They claim that California courts have no jurisdiction over events in Japan. Sammartino also considered a choice-of-law motion from General Electric, which wants to apply Japanese law to the case or have it transferred to Japan.
TepCo operated the Fukushima nuclear plant; GE designed its nuclear reactors.
TepCo attorney Gregory Stone, with Munger, Tolles & Olson in Los Angeles, said all claims brought in the United States could be brought in Japan and that the statute of limitations has not run out in Japan’s court system.
GE attorney Michael Schissel, with Arnold & Porter in New York, said the case belongs in Japan, where the facts originated and the witnesses are. Schissel said the Japanese government declared the nuclear meltdown was not a natural disaster, so TepCo could be held liable for damages.
But Edwards, whose firm Edwards Kirby is based in North Carolina, said it’s important to look at the situation “from altitude,” to see things from the sailors’ perspective.
“These are American sailors, American employees serving their country, who were sent on American ships on international waters at the request of the Japanese government … their ally, which owns the majority of stock in defendant TepCo,” Edwards said.
“Being on an American ship in international waters puts you on American soil.”
Edwards said that since the vast majority of the sailor-plaintiffs were stationed in San Diego and GE designed the nuclear reactors at its San Jose headquarters, the case belongs in California.
“They want the case in Japan because they know it goes away; that’s clearly their strategy,” Edwards said.
He added: “This case screams federal jurisdiction; this case screams United States of America. The underlying concept of this whole thing is fundamental and basic notions of fairness being met.”
Edwards’ co-counsel Charles Bonner, with Bonner & Bonner in Sausalito, said if the case were transferred to Japan, where GE could be dismissed as a defendant, GE could “continue building their defective reactors with impunity.”
Bonner added that California has a vested interest in applying its own laws, including strict liability for defective products, and punitive damages to deter companies from selling defective products. He pointed out that one-sixth of the U.S. Navy is based in San Diego, with 69 Navy ships in San Diego Harbor.
“(Japan’s) compensation act has not been applied to their own citizens, only businesses. Why should we speculate their compensation act will help our sailors? It will not,” Bonner said.
Stone countered that Bonner was “simply wrong” in claiming that the Japanese nuclear damage compensation act had not benefited individual Japanese citizens. He said it is the conduct of defendants TepCo and GE – which occurred in Japan – and not the plaintiffs’ place of residence that should determine jurisdiction over the case.
Sammartino indicated she will want further briefing from the attorneys before ruling on the motion to dismiss.
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January 5, 2018 - Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , ,

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