The Role of the Judiciary in Asbestos Injury
Compensation in Japan
Asbestos and asbestos products have caused grave health hazards on an unprecedented scale worldwide. In addition to workers in factories using asbestos products, nearby residents as well as consumers and inhabitants of buildings containing asbestos have also been affected. According to a prediction made in the United States, asbestos exposure will have produced some 130,000 cases of mesothelioma and 300,000 cases of cancer during the period of 1965 to 2030 (Carroll et al. 2005, 16). In Japan, it is forecast that asbestos will be responsible for 100,000 cases of mesothelioma and twice that number of cancer cases.
This massive victimization has tested the capability of the legal system to respond. In the United States, by 2002, asbestos litigation resulted in the payment of $70 billion in compensation; but only $30 billion of this amount were allocated to the victims, while the rest was consumed by lawyers' fees ('Carroll et al. 2005, 88). It is well known that tort litigation requires high transactions costs, but still this number is staggering. Is it really impossible to pay proper injury compensation without spending such enormous fees?
In Japan, asbestos-related injuries are compensated mainly through workers' compensation. Awards are reasonably generous, providing compensation of 80 percent of a person's salary for absence from work as well as a lump-sum payment and survivor annuity upon the death of the victim.
Furthermore, worker's compensation is not an exclusive remedy as it is in the United States, and workers can sue the employer for damages while retaining