SAN DIEGO (CN) – Hundreds of American sailors who filed two class actions claiming to have suffered physical abnormalities, cancer and death stemming from exposure to radiation while on a humanitarian mission to Fukushima, Japan in 2011 were dealt a blow Monday when their cases were dismissed, paving the way for their claims to be brought in Japan.
U.S. District Judge Janis Sammartino found in a “close call” in two separate orders, class actions brought against Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO, and General Electric, should be dismissed without prejudice so the service members’ claims could be brought in Japan if they choose to revive them.
The Navy sailors brought two class action cases against TEPCO and GE in 2012 and 2017 over claims they’ve suffered – or will suffer in the future – serious physical injuries, cancer and death due to radiation they were exposed to while serving on the USS Ronald Reagan.
In November, the parties gathered in Sammartino’s courtroom to argue whether or not the Southern District of California had personal jurisdiction over the claims, which could be brought in Japan under its Compensation for Nuclear Damage Act.
Under Japan’s Compensation for Nuclear Damage Act, GE, as manufacturer of the nuclear reactor, is shielded from liability which falls on the operator of a nuclear plant. Claims can still be brought against TEPCO, however, which has already paid over $70 billion to compensate those affected by the disaster.
While the judge found both jurisdictions have a “strong interest” in its laws being applied to the claims, Japan’s interest outweighs California’s.
“The court finds no convincing support for plaintiffs’ assertion that Japanese law will leave them with ‘minimal and insufficient damages’ requiring the U.S. Government or California to pick up the financial balance,” Sammartino wrote.
“While plaintiffs’ contention that litigating in the Japanese forum will be exponentially more difficult than litigating in California may be true, plaintiffs have shown no law or facts that indicate that the Japanese forum is closed to any of the named, or unnamed, plaintiffs,” she added.
Sammartino dismissed the claims against GE pursuant to the Compensation Act.
As for the claims against TEPCO, Sammartino echoed her findings regarding the claims against GE finding Japan would be “more impaired” than California if its laws were not applied to the sailors’ claims, especially in light of the Japanese government’s creation of the Nuclear Damage Compensation and Decommissioning Facilitation Fund, NDF, providing $75 billion to TEPCO to resolve claims stemming from the nuclear disaster.
The class members are represented by former Sen. John Edwards and Catharine Edwards with Edwards Kirby in North Carolina, Charles Bonner and Cabral Bonner of Sausalito, California and Paul Garner of Carlsbad California.
TEPCO is represented by Gregory Stone with Munger Tolles and Olson.
GE is represented by Michael Schissel with Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer.
Read more at Judge Tosses Fukushima Radiation Class Action