Tokyo offers asthma lifeline

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asthmaThe Tokyo metropolitan government proposed to the Tokyo High Court on Tuesday that it will create a new system to help all residents suffering from asthma as a reconciliation plan with 96 plaintiffs who filed a damages suit against the central and Tokyo governments, the former public expressway corporation and others asking for compensation of about 2 billion yen.

Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara visited the high court on Tuesday afternoon to explain the reconciliation plan. The high court will show the plan to other defendants, including the central government, and the plaintiffs, and urge them to reach an out-of-court settlement.

The new system involves the defendants--the central and Tokyo governments, the former Metropolitan Expressway Public Corporation (current Metropolitan Expressway Company Ltd.) and seven auto manufacturers--sharing the burden of medical fees for all asthma patients in Tokyo who are not officially recognized under the central government's compensation system for health damages from environmental pollution. The patients will not have to pay their own medical expenses under the new system.

Attention will be focused on how the central government, the automakers and the former public expressway corporation will cope with the Tokyo government's proposal.

As the Tokyo government already has its own subsidy system to support medical fees for asthma patients under 18, the new system will cover asthma patients who are 18 years old or older and are not officially recognized under the current system. According to the Tokyo government, the number of asthma patients in Tokyo is about 200,000, and the amount of the subsidy is estimated at several billion yen per year.

At the Tokyo government assembly meeting on Sept. 27, Ishihara clearly expressed his intention to discuss the new rescue system for that purpose. "This problem will not be drastically solved solely by depending on court decisions," he said.

The plaintiffs filed the damages suit against the defendants at the Tokyo District Court in May 1996. In October 2002, the district court acknowledged the causal relationship between exhaust fumes and the condition and ordered the defendants to pay a total of 79.2 million yen in compensation to seven plaintiffs living along the expressways. But the court denied the responsibility on the part of the automakers. From 1996 to February this year, six groups of plaintiffs filed separate lawsuits.

The trial of the 1996 case at the high court concluded in September, but the court has been hearing from both plaintiffs and defendants and is pushing for an out-of-court settlement.

So far, the central government has claimed that it has no responsibility for the condition and the causal relationship between exhaust fumes and asthma has yet to be proved.

On the other hand, the automakers, fearing a possible class-action suit filed on behalf of a company's shareholders, said that it would be difficult for them to be financially responsible for the plantiffs' medical fees. But they have been showing a positive position on covering the spending for improved environmental measures as their social responsibility.

source - Yomiuri