1. Damage Compensation Issues
There are various kinds of disputes in society, many of which are civil disputes on damage compensation. I am a lawyer and teach at a university after serving as a judge. I have been interested in damage compensation issues since I became a judge. In my experience dealing with actual civil disputes including lawsuits, there are not a few cases where the amount of damage compensation is difficult to calculate or is determined too low as compared with the conventional wisdom of the day. Some areas do not have a clear criterion or calculation method for the amount of damage compensation. It is, furthermore, often obscure what items in a compensation claim would be accepted, and to what extent.
I chose the issue of damage compensation as one of my fields of study, and I have studied and published articles and books on judicial precedents such as solatiums for defamation and those for infringements of privacy. It seems that they have been found useful in the litigation settings.
Later on, in modern society, damage from damaging rumors has become more common, where product trade is terminated or reduced due to information provided to consumers, business partners, or society that would cause suspicion of a product defect for various reasons even without any actual defect or fault in the product itself. So, I became interested in damaging rumors and began to study judicial precedents regarding damaging rumors and economic damage including damage from nuclear power, and published the results as articles and books (e.g. Legal Theories and Practice on Damaging rumors and Economic Damage [Fuhyo Songai / Keizaiteki Songai no Hori to Jitsumu]). As for damage from nuclear power, when the JCO criticality accident occurred in September 1999, I served as a member of the Nuclear Power Damage Investigation Board, and was studying judicial precedents regarding damage from nuclear power.
2. The Great East Japan Earthquake Disaster and the nuclear power plant accident
After I thought personally that I had studied damage compensation issues enough and moved to other areas, especially judicial precedents regarding commercial transactions, the 9.0-magunitude Great East Japan Earthquake Disaster struck suddenly on March 11, 2011.
Because I have been engaged in legislation as a member responsible for civil law at the Ministry of Justice immediately after the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake Disaster (during this activity, we used cases of the Great Kanto Earthquake Disaster as references), I had a great interest in the damage, and was paying close attention to responses by the nuclear power plants in the afflicted areas as well as damage from tsunamis. As of March 11, I felt relieved hearing a report that the operation was successfully stopped at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. From the next day, however, I experienced anxious days that were an absolute nightmare, just as you readers did.
As grave circumstances arose one after another, including hydrogen explosions and the massive release of radioactive substances, I hurried to review the content of the Act on Compensation for Nuclear Damage (Nuclear Compensation Act), and publish articles in journals regarding the issues of compensation-related disputes that were expected to arise in large volume. When a great disaster breaks out, it is crucial to steadily carry out rapid and appropriate responses such as rapid lifesaving, lifeline recovery, maintaining a livelihood for the time being, life support, and recovery of business. Things to be done two steps after them include predicting civil legal issues, presenting resolution frameworks, and offering a large amount of consultation services. When it comes to a large disaster, it is vital to provide rescues, recovery, and restoration rapidly, appropriately and efficiently. In the case of the Great East Japan Earthquake Disaster, unfortunately, political, administrative, and other various problems have been revealed, and smooth recovery and restoration have actually been impeded. As I was requested by various people to present my opinions, I compiled them into a book entitled Lawsuit Practice for Nuclear Power Plant Accidents [Genpatsu Jiko no Sosho Jitsumu], and published it with the hope that it would help predict and prevent future disputes.
3. Damage compensation and recovery / restoration
For the issues of compensation for this nuclear power plant accident, the Dispute Reconciliation Committee for Nuclear Damage Compensation published interim guidelines and presented a standard for resolution, in order to facilitate dispute resolution through reconciliation with Tokyo Electric Power Company and mediation by the Center for Dispute Reconciliation for Nuclear Damage Compensation. The interim guidelines allow a wider scope of damage compensation than those based on the standards and ideas of judicial precedents for damage compensation in lawsuits. The reconciliation proposed by the Center for Dispute Reconciliation further extends this scope and amounts to allow compensation for damaging rumors and business losses beyond the existing criteria set by judicial precedents. The current damage compensation issues are characterized by the facts that the cause is one of the biggest incidents in Japanese history and that the interim guidelines and other measures allow very extensive compensation for damage from damaging rumors.
On the other hand, however, the amount of compensation for this nuclear accident is too huge to predict, and it is expected that this amount will ultimately be passed on to electricity charges and taxes. It is time for the society as a whole to realistically consider how to deal with the future burden. In addition, if a nuclear operator is not exempted—it is granted exemption when an accident is caused by an exceptionally enormous natural disaster—then the Nuclear Compensation Act provides that only the nuclear operator shall be liable for the entire damage from nuclear power, which is called channeling of liability. As a result, issues regarding amendments to the law have emerged, such as whether the law should limit the burden on nuclear operators, and on how this pertains to the obligations of the national government. Moreover, actual cases of compensation claims seem to encounter problems including excessive claims, false claims, expanded compensation criteria, and delayed resolution due to expectations of future criteria expansion. It is also anticipated that many cases will not be resolved through reconciliation.
Compensation money—which is supposed to be used for the restoration and recovery of life and business of each afflicted company and individual—might not be used according to its original purpose. Failing to deal with the restoration and recovery of life and business at an early stage would cause people to face a miserable situation in which they would have to depend on damage compensation.
Even if most of the disputes over compensation for damage from this nuclear power plant accident were resolved through reconciliation, it is expected that a great many cases would still litigated. We may have to spend several decades to resolve all of the disputes and lawsuits. I am going to do my best and keep paying attention to this issue. I hope all of the disputes on damage compensation are resolved as soon as possible.
Professor, Chuo Law School, Chuo University
Area of Specialization: Civil Law
Born in Shimane Prefecture in 1950. Graduated from the Faculty of Law, Kyoto University in 1974. Served in the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries; Tokyo District Court as an assistant judge; General Affairs Bureau, General Secretariat, Supreme Court; Fukuoka District Court as an assistant judge and a judge; Tokyo District Court as a judge; Civil Affairs Bureau, the Ministry of Justice as a councilor; and Tokyo High Court as a judge before his retirement in 1997. Assumed his current position in 2004 after serving Faculty of Liberal Arts, University of the Sacred Heart, Tokyo as a professor. Major study interests include the history and significance of judicial precedents regarding modern commercial transactions from the perspective of the modern society, civil legal issues surrounding information, etc.