(The banners read “Victory” and “TEPCO is guilty.”
The Fukushima District Court ruled Tuesday that Tokyo Electric Power Co. was responsible for a woman’s suicide following the March 2011 nuclear disaster, ordering the utility to pay ¥49 million ($472,000) in damages in a landmark ruling that could set a precedent for other claims against the utility.
It was the first ruling on a lawsuit in which compensation has been sought over a suicide linked to the disaster that created serious radiation contamination. Some 125,000 Fukushima residents continue to live as evacuees.
The lawsuit involved the suicide of a Fukushima evacuee:
Mikio Watanabe’s civil suit claimed that the plant operator was to blame for the July 2011 death of his 58-year-old wife, Hamako, who doused herself in kerosene and set herself on fire after falling into deep depression.
The court found that stress from the evacuation was a major factor in Watanabe’s suicide:
Watanabe and other family members evacuated to an apartment in the city of Fukushima in June, but she burned herself to death with gasoline on July 1 when she temporarily returned to her home.
The plaintiffs said Watanabe’s mental state deteriorated because she was not able to foresee when she could return home and the chicken farm where the couple was working closed in June.
TEPCO’s defense asserted that Watanabe had problems that predated the accident:
Tepco has admitted the nuclear accident had placed a severe psychological burden on Watanabe. But the utility also noted that other factors could have affected her, citing that she had trouble sleeping before the accident and was on medication.
The decision may lead to additional expenses for TEPCO:
The court decision is the latest blow for the utility, which was bailed out with taxpayer funds in 2012 and expects to spend more than $48 billion in compensation alone for the nuclear disaster.
Tepco has settled a number of suicide-related claims through a government dispute-resolution system, but has declined to say how many or give details on how much it has paid.