UPDATE1: Top court recognizes woman as victim of Minamata disease.
(EDS: UPDATING AND ADDING INFORMATION)
Japan's Supreme Court upheld on Tuesday a high court ruling that posthumously recognized a woman as a victim of the Minamata mercury-poisoning disease, one of the country's worst outbreaks of disease linked to industrial pollution.
The top court's five-justice third petty bench, led by Justice Itsuro Terada, handed down the decision on a lawsuit filed by relatives of Chie Mizoguchi, who argued that the Kumamoto prefectural government unfairly rejected her claim of suffering from the disease.
Mizoguchi, who was a resident of Minamata, Kumamoto Prefecture, on Japan's southernmost main island of Kyushu, died in 1977 at the age of 77.
It is the first time the top court has ruled in favor of a person seeking recognition as a victim of the disease or their kin.
The same panel, in a separate ruling on a similar suit filed by a woman in Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture, overturned an Osaka High Court ruling that rejected the woman's demand she be recognized as a sufferer of Minamata disease eligible for aid.
The highest court sent the case back to the Osaka High Court, ordering the appellate court to resume the deliberations on the case of the woman, whose identity is being withheld.
In February last year, the Fukuoka High Court ordered the Kumamoto prefectural government to recognize Mizoguchi posthumously as a Minamata disease sufferer and invalidated the central government's criteria for recognizing such patients, overruling a lower court decision that turned down the relatives' demand.
The local government filed an appeal with the top court.
The top court decision on Mizoguchi stood immediately and she will be recognized as a Minamata disease sufferer, officials said.
In contrast, in April last year, the Osaka High Court overturned a lower court ruling that backed the other woman's demand she be recognized as a sufferer of Minamata disease eligible for aid.
The focal point of the two cases at the top court was whether the government's criteria for recognition of Minamata disease sufferers, adopted in 1977, are reasonable.
The 1977 criteria set tougher standards to recognize sufferers of the disease, requiring a combination of the disorder of sensation plus separate symptoms.
In Tuesday's ruling, the Supreme Court failed to touch on the reasonability of the 1977 standards.
But the court noted there is no scientific proof that all Minamata disease sufferers have developed a combination of the disorder of sensation plus separate symptoms.
Minamata disease is known as one of Japan's worst pollution diseases caused by mercury-laced waste water released into Minamata Bay by Shin-Nippon Chisso Hiryo K.K., which was later renamed to Chisso Corp.
Minamata disease paralyzes the human central nervous system and causes birth defects. The Japanese government recognized it as a pollution-caused disease in September 1968.