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Gov't, ex-leprosy patients postpone official settlement.

KUMAMOTO, Japan, Jan. 10 Kyodo

The government and a group of plaintiffs comprising former leprosy patients not forced into sanitariums under the government's onetime quarantine policy as well as the kin of deceased leprosy patients decided Thursday to postpone officially settling the plaintiffs' compensation suit.

An out-of-court settlement was expected to be reached Thursday at the Kumamoto District Court but the plaintiffs and health minister Chikara Sakaguchi decided to exchange a document on their basic agreement before officially settling the case.

The plaintiffs and the state have yet to decide details to be included in the document.

During discussions Thursday, the government insisted on creating a document for the former patients, as it did in reaching an earlier settlement for patients who were forced into sanitariums.

The plaintiffs demanded that the state include in the document an apology admitting its legal responsibility and a statement that the two sides will continue to discuss permanent aid measures for the patients.

The Kumamoto court recommended Dec. 7 that the state and plaintiffs agree to a settlement under which the government is to pay 5 million to 7 million yen each to 16 former leprosy patients who were not quarantined and 5.5 million to 14 million yen each to the relatives of 72 leprosy patients who died before the suit was filed.

On Dec. 26, the state presented other conditions to the plaintiffs but has yet to formally decide whether to seek their inclusion in the settlement. The state formally accepted the court recommendation the following day.

The conditions include limiting damages for the former patients to the impact of the reduced opportunities they had to receive medical treatment, and requiring the bereaved family members to receive the ashes of the former patients, which are now kept at the sanitariums.

The plaintiffs and the state will discuss the state's additional conditions in future conferences.

If a settlement is finally reached, 16 former patients who were not forced into sanitariums and 142 bereaved family members of the 72 former patients will receive a total of 1 billion yen in compensation.

The suit was initially filed with the Kumamoto District Court in July 1998 by 13 leprosy patients at sanitariums in Kumamoto and Kagoshima prefectures in southwestern Japan.

On May 11, the Kumamoto court ordered the state to pay a combined 1.8 billion yen in compensation to leprosy patients who were confined in sanitariums.

About 2,100 plaintiffs and the state reached a settlement later and a law was enacted in June to pay between 8 million and 14 million yen each in compensation to former leprosy patients forced into sanitariums.

However, patients who were not sent to the facilities and those who died before the suit was lodged were not covered by the law and have filed their own lawsuits.

The plaintiffs who were not forced into sanitariums say they have suffered social discrimination under the state policy which they say ruined their lives. Most other leprosy patients in Japan were forced into sanitariums under the 1953 Leprosy Prevention Law, which was repealed in 1996.
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Publication:Japan Weekly Monitor
Date:Jan 14, 2002
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