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Court orders state to pay compensation in hepatitis B relapse cases

FUKUOKA (Kyodo) --The Fukuoka District Court on Monday ordered the state to pay 12.5 million yen (US$110,000) each in damages to two chronic hepatitis B sufferers who argued that a 20-year compensation window the government set for people infected in state-run vaccination programmes is unfair.

Lawyers representing two chronic hepatitis B sufferers in a lawsuit over reduced state benefit for relapse cases hold up signs in front of the Fukuoka District Court in southwestern Japan, showing the court’s decision ordering the government to pay compensation.     --Photo Kyodo

Under a special law, the government provides a compensation payment to people infected with hepatitis B as a result of the systematic sharing of needles in past vaccination programs. But the payments are reduced if the people do not take a legal action within 20 years of developing symptoms.
The plaintiffs, who live in Fukuoka Prefecture, contracted hepatitis B through a mass early childhood vaccination program. Symptoms of the disease improved for both at one point before they suffered relapses around 2004 and 2008, respectively.
The men, one in his 60s and another in his 50s, filed a lawsuit after their symptoms reappeared.
In the ruling, Presiding Judge Akihito Katayama said the relapses are “new damage” the plaintiffs have suffered and they should, therefore, receive compensation. It is the first judgment of its kind.
The judgment could set a precedent for other lawsuits involving people struggling with the reoccurrence of their symptoms.
According to the plaintiffs’ lawyers, about 80 people have sued the state for damages and the number of plaintiffs could rise as many have not taken any action.
During the trial, the plaintiffs insisted that the 20-year compensation window should be applied from when their symptoms reoccurred. But the government claimed that those who developed hepatitis B symptoms 20 or more years ago had lost their right to damages under the Civil Code.
Under the special law that took effect in 2012, people suffering from chronic hepatitis receive a one-off benefit of 12.5 million yen if they file a lawsuit within 20 years, much more than the up to 3 million yen awarded to those who failed to do so within that time frame.
Those affected must file a lawsuit against the state to be recognised as eligible for the payment.
Hepatitis B, caused by a virus that is transmitted through contact with blood or other bodily fluids of an infected person, puts people at high risk of death from cirrhosis and liver cancer, according to the World Health Organization.
Children less than 6 years of age who become infected with the hepatitis B virus are the most likely to develop chronic infections, it says.
At least 400,000 people in Japan are believed to have been infected with the hepatitis B virus due to lax needle use practices during the country’s group vaccination programme between 1948 and 1988. But only about 7 percent, or 31,439 people, have been recognised as eligible to receive a payment based on the special law.


(Latest Update
December 12,
2017)


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