Chisso Corporation lawsuit (re Minamata disease)

Polluted river

Between 1938 and 1968, the wastewater from Chisso Corporation’s chemical factory in the Kumamoto district of Japan flowed into Minamata Bay.  This wastewater contained mercury.  In 1956, a doctor at Chisso’s factory reported increased cases of individuals with nervous system damage, officially recognising the existence of what came to be known as Minamata disease.  Symptoms of the disease include seizures, spasms, loss of motor control, numbness, paralysis, sensory impairment and, in extreme cases, death.  The disease was caused by mercury poisoning occurring through the food chain; fish in the bay contained concentrated mercury toxins and when caught and consumed, the toxins were assimilated into the bodies of the people who ate them.

Minamata victims launched numerous legal actions against Chisso Corporation, the Japanese Government and Kumamoto prefecture.  A group of Minamata victims filed a lawsuit in 1969 against Chisso alleging corporate negligence.  The trial lasted almost four years.  The court ultimately ruled in favour of the plaintiffs and ordered Chisso to pay compensation to the victims.  As the number of victims continued to increase, the Japanese Government adopted a certification process whereby people were officially certified as suffering from Minamata disease based on a characteristic combination of symptoms. 

A former president of Chisso and a supervisor of the Minamata factory faced criminal proceedings in 1979 for causing death and serious bodily harm.  In 1979, they were sentenced to two years in prison; these decisions were upheld by the High Court and Supreme Court.  In 1995, the Japanese Government proposed a settlement plan to those who had not been certified with Minamata disease in exchange for them dropping all related litigation.  Many victims accepted this settlement.

The Minamata Disease Kansai Patients Association refused to drop their case.  In 1982, the Association sued Chisso Corporation, the Japanese Government and Kumamoto prefecture demanding recognition as Minamata disease victims and compensation for the damages they suffered.  The Osaka District Court in July 1994 ruled that neither the government nor the prefecture was responsible for the damage to the victims.  The plaintiffs appealed this decision in Osaka High Court which overturned the lower court’s decision and found that the defendants had failed to exercise their regulatory authority as required by water quality legislation and the Fisheries Coordination Regulation of Kumamoto prefecture.  This decision was appealed by the defendants to the Supreme Court which in October 2004 upheld the decision of the High Court.  The Court found that by November 1959, three years had already passed since the official discovery of Minamata disease and despite this development, the authorities had not prevented the residents from consuming contaminated fish and shellfish from the bay.  The Court found that the plaintiffs were entitled to receive compensation for the damage they suffered.

In April 2010, the Japanese government approved a measure to provide compensation to uncertified sufferers of Minamata disease.  This measure will allow for a lump sum payment to these uncertified sufferers who have not joined a lawsuit against the government or Chisso.  Chisso will pay ¥3.15 billion to three organizations of the uncertified disease sufferers who have not joined a lawsuit.

On 31 March 2014, the Kumamoto District Court ordered the state, the Kumamoto Prefectural Government and Chisso to pay ¥106 million in damages to three uncertified sufferers who sued them. In that case, the defendants denied liability for the allegations that the plaintiffs had contracted Minamata disease due to mercury intake.

- “Relief for unrecognized Minamata victims OK'd”, Yomiuri Shimbun, 16 Apr 2010
- “Japan to Compensate More Victims of Mercury Disaster”, AFP, 3 Jul 2009
- “Court orders damages paid to Japan poisoning victims”, Kozo Mizoguchi, Associated Press, 16 Oct 2004
- “Victims Not Ready to Close Books on Minamata Saga”, Sonni Effron, Los Angeles Times, 10 Aug 1997
- “JAPAN - Victims of Mercury Poisoning Settle”, Los Angeles Times, 23 May 1996
- “Japan Mercury Victims Get Court Award”, Los Angeles Times, 27 Nov 1993
- “30 Years after Mercury Poisoning at Minamata - Ecological Disaster at Japan Village Leaves Legacy of Suffering”, Michael Weisskoff, Washington Post, 10 May 1987

- Ministry of the Environment, Government of Japan: Minamata Disease - The History and Measures, 2002
- Soshisha (the Supporting Center for Minamata Disease): Brief Chronology of the Minamata Disease Incident and Activities of the Soshisha

 - Xs V Japan & Kumamoto Prefecture, Supreme Court of Japan, 15 Oct 2004

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Article
31 March 2014

Court rules in favor of three Minamata sufferers [Japan]

Author: Kyodo, Japan Times

The Kumamoto District Court… ordered the state, the Kumamoto Prefectural Government and Chisso Corp. to pay damages to three of eight unrecognized Minamata disease sufferers …[The] court ordered the payment of ¥106 million in damages, including a record-high ¥100 million for one of the three victims…[However], lawyers for the plaintiffs said they effectively lost because the court rejected damages for five of the eight plaintiffs…The eight are men and women aged 54 to 61 who were born in Kumamoto and neighboring Kagoshima around 1956, when health authorities officially recognized the existence of Minamata disease in Kumamoto Prefecture…The eight, who complain of paresthesia (a “pins and needles” feeling) in their limbs, had applied with two prefectural governments for recognition as Minamata disease patients but were rejected or left in limbo…Their lawyers argued that they had a history of mercury intake and contracted mercury-caused paresthesia. The defendants denied it...

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Article
8 June 2011

Minamata resolution still elusive [Japan]

Author: Japan Times

The new redress steps for uncertified Minamata disease patients are not likely to lead to a complete settlement of decades-old disputes involving the mercury poisoning disease, panelists at a recent Tokyo symposium indicated. More than 40,000 people with the disease have applied for the assistance in the last 13 months under a special law stipulating that determining who should receive the benefits take no longer than three years...[A] doctor involved in the Minamata issue...suggests that the three-year provision could result in those people being abandoned, particularly congenital patients, who were hit by mercury in the womb and who so far have not exhibited symptoms...Minamata disease was caused by Chisso Corp. discharging contaminated wastewater into the sea from its chemical plant in Minamata. [also refers to Showa Denko K.K.]

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Article
26 March 2011

Unrecognized Minamata victims settle damages suit with Chisso

Author: Japan Times

A group of unrecognized victims of Minamata disease reached an out-of-court settlement Friday with Chisso…the chemical maker responsible for causing the mercury-poisoning disease, over a damages suit at the Kumamoto District Court. The settlement involves the largest number of plaintiffs — 2,492 — among a series of lawsuits against Chisso and marks a major turning point in redressing the victims of the mercury-poisoning disease since it was officially recognized in 1956…Under the settlement, Chisso will pay a ¥2.1 million lump sum to some 90 percent of the plaintiffs as well as an additional ¥2.95 billion to the group. The central government and Kumamoto Prefectural Government will shoulder part of the victims' medical costs.

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Article
12 January 2011

Chisso Sets Up Unit for Minamata Disease Relief [Japan]

Author: Jiji Press

Japanese chemical maker Chisso...set up a unit as part of a plan to make payments to victims of Minamata disease, a form of poisoning caused by its mercury waste. The wholly owned unit, JNC Corp., will take over Chisso's business operations by the end of March, allowing the parent to focus on dealing with the aftermath of the mercury pollution it caused decades ago in southern Japan. Chisso will take JNC public and sell off its stake in the unit to finance its payments to tens of thousands of victims...This is a process mandated under law passed in 2009 to bail out Minamata disease patients who suffer sensory disorders and other symptoms as a result of the poisoning.

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Article
13 November 2010

Chisso submits spinoff plan to secure Minamata compensation [Japan]

Author: Japan Today

Chisso Corp, the chemical maker responsible for the mercury-poisoning Minamata disease, submitted a business reform plan to the government Friday, featuring a scheme to spin off all its business operations to secure compensation costs for patients. The Tokyo-based company, riddled with excessive debts, is aiming to set aside compensation money by spinning off its operations such as displays and other electronic components into a subsidiary...According to the plan, Chisso will set up a new company that will solely engage in business operations. The parent company will hold the entire stake of the new company and allocate dividends from the subsidiary to its payments of compensation and debts.

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Article
16 April 2010

Relief for unrecognized Minamata victims OK'd

Author: Yomiuri Shimbun

The Cabinet on Friday approved a measure to relieve unrecognized patients claiming to suffer from Minamata mercury poisoning that may cover more than 30,000 people who had been regarded as ineligible for financial assistance. The measure includes a lump-sum payment of 2.1 million yen per person to unrecognized sufferers who met certain criteria…Chemical maker Chisso Corp., which is responsible for the mercury poisoning in Kagoshima and Kumamoto prefectures, will pay 3.15 billion yen to three organizations of unrecognized patients in the two prefectures who have not joined the lawsuit…

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Article
30 March 2010

Minamata disease victims approve settlement [Japan]

Author: Japan Times

Unrecognized victims of Minamata mercury poisoning disease agreed Monday with the central government, Kumamoto Prefecture and chemical maker Chisso Corp. to settle a damages suit…that includes lump-sum payments of ¥2.1 million per person….

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Article
19 March 2010

Unqualified Minamata cases to be settled [Japan]

Author: Kyodo News [Japan]

The government will accept a court-brokered settlement in a damages suit filed by unrecognized sufferers of Minamata disease, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama said Thursday…The proposed settlement terms were presented during the fourth session of court-mediated negotiations between 2,126 plaintiffs and the defendants — the government, the Kumamoto Prefecture and chemical maker Chisso Corp. — over a damages suit filed in 2005. A Chisso factory in the prefecture released mercury-tainted water into the sea, causing the disease…The government is working on rectifying cases involving people who do not meet the strict eligibility criteria for Minamata pollution victims...

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Article
11 October 2001

Poisoning victims of Japan's mercury bay may be double previous estimates

Author: Hans Greimel, Associated Press

Poisoning from Japan's infamous mercury bay may plague tens of thousands more people than previously acknowledged, according to fresh research slated for release next week. The findings could increase pressure on the Japanese government to boost victim compensation as they refocus concern on an environmental catastrophe shadowing the country for nearly 50 years. The government officially recognizes 2,265 victims - 1,435 already dead - of the industrial dumpings at southern Japan's Minamata Bay, where chemical maker Chisso Corp. had been pouring tons of mercury compounds since in the 1930s.

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Lawsuit
11 June 2001

Chisso Corporation lawsuit (re Minamata disease)

Author: Business & Human Rights Resource Centre

Between 1938 and 1968, the wastewater from Chisso Corporation’s chemical factory in the Kumamoto district of Japan flowed into Minamata Bay.  This wastewater contained mercury.  In 1956, a doctor at Chisso’s factory reported increased cases of individuals with nervous system damage, officially recognising the existence of what came to be known as Minamata disease.  Symptoms of the disease include seizures, spasms, loss of motor control, numbness, paralysis, sensory impairment and, in extreme cases, death.  The disease was caused by mercury poisoning occurring through the food chain; fish in the bay contained concentrated mercury toxins and when caught and consumed, the toxins were assimilated into the bodies of the people who ate them.

Minamata victims launched numerous legal actions against Chisso Corporation, the Japanese Government and Kumamoto prefecture.  A group of Minamata victims filed a lawsuit in 1969 against Chisso alleging corporate negligence.  The trial lasted almost four years.  The court ultimately ruled in favour of the plaintiffs and ordered Chisso to pay compensation to the victims.  As the number of victims continued to increase, the Japanese Government adopted a certification process whereby people were officially certified as suffering from Minamata disease based on a characteristic combination of symptoms. 

A former president of Chisso and a supervisor of the Minamata factory faced criminal proceedings in 1979 for causing death and serious bodily harm.  In 1979, they were sentenced to two years in prison; these decisions were upheld by the High Court and Supreme Court.  In 1995, the Japanese Government proposed a settlement plan to those who had not been certified with Minamata disease in exchange for them dropping all related litigation.  Many victims accepted this settlement.

The Minamata Disease Kansai Patients Association refused to drop their case.  In 1982, the Association sued Chisso Corporation, the Japanese Government and Kumamoto prefecture demanding recognition as Minamata disease victims and compensation for the damages they suffered.  The Osaka District Court in July 1994 ruled that neither the government nor the prefecture was responsible for the damage to the victims.  The plaintiffs appealed this decision in Osaka High Court which overturned the lower court’s decision and found that the defendants had failed to exercise their regulatory authority as required by water quality legislation and the Fisheries Coordination Regulation of Kumamoto prefecture.  This decision was appealed by the defendants to the Supreme Court which in October 2004 upheld the decision of the High Court.  The Court found that by November 1959, three years had already passed since the official discovery of Minamata disease and despite this development, the authorities had not prevented the residents from consuming contaminated fish and shellfish from the bay.  The Court found that the plaintiffs were entitled to receive compensation for the damage they suffered.

In April 2010, the Japanese government approved a measure to provide compensation to uncertified sufferers of Minamata disease.  This measure will allow for a lump sum payment to these uncertified sufferers who have not joined a lawsuit against the government or Chisso.  Chisso will pay ¥3.15 billion to three organizations of the uncertified disease sufferers who have not joined a lawsuit.

On 31 March 2014, the Kumamoto District Court ordered the state, the Kumamoto Prefectural Government and Chisso to pay ¥106 million in damages to three uncertified sufferers who sued them. In that case, the defendants denied liability for the allegations that the plaintiffs had contracted Minamata disease due to mercury intake.

- “Relief for unrecognized Minamata victims OK'd”, Yomiuri Shimbun, 16 Apr 2010
- “Japan to Compensate More Victims of Mercury Disaster”, AFP, 3 Jul 2009
- “Court orders damages paid to Japan poisoning victims”, Kozo Mizoguchi, Associated Press, 16 Oct 2004
- “Victims Not Ready to Close Books on Minamata Saga”, Sonni Effron, Los Angeles Times, 10 Aug 1997
- “JAPAN - Victims of Mercury Poisoning Settle”, Los Angeles Times, 23 May 1996
- “Japan Mercury Victims Get Court Award”, Los Angeles Times, 27 Nov 1993
- “30 Years after Mercury Poisoning at Minamata - Ecological Disaster at Japan Village Leaves Legacy of Suffering”, Michael Weisskoff, Washington Post, 10 May 1987

- Ministry of the Environment, Government of Japan: Minamata Disease - The History and Measures, 2002
- Soshisha (the Supporting Center for Minamata Disease): Brief Chronology of the Minamata Disease Incident and Activities of the Soshisha

 - Xs V Japan & Kumamoto Prefecture, Supreme Court of Japan, 15 Oct 2004