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First Circuit Readies Blow for Fukushima Victims Suing GE via Courthouse News Service

THOMAS F. HARRISON

BOSTON (CN) – Victims of the Fukushima nuclear disaster struggled Tuesday to make their case for the First Circuit to revive a lawsuit against the plant’s U.S.-based designer, General Electric Co.

[…]

An attorney with the Philadelphia office of Eckert Seamans, Forte seeks compensation for more than 150,000 Japanese individuals and businesses who were “economically devastated and literally ruined” in March 2011 when an earthquake and tsunami overwhelmed the Fukushima nuclear plant, causing an explosion and a massive release of radiation.

The plaintiffs, led by Shinya Imamura, claim that GE was responsible for the plant’s maintenance, in addition to having designed it, and were negligent in choosing a site for the plant with a “long-recorded history of very large earthquakes and tsunamis.” 

Chief U.S. District Judge Patti Saris dismissed the suit in April, concluding that an adequate remedy for the plaintiffs’ injuries exists in Japan. They now seek a reversal from the First Circuit in Boston.

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U.S. Circuit Judge Juan Torruella, at age 86 the senior judge on the three-judge panel, raised another problem: Even if the case could be tried in the U.S., he said, an American court might still have to apply Japanese law – in which case the suit would end up getting thrown out anyway.

Forte responded that it wasn’t clear whether American or Japanese law would apply, and the plaintiffs should be allowed to proceed to trial and find out.

But U.S. Circuit Judge Sandra Lynch, a Clinton appointee, peppered Forte with questions trying to pin him down on why the TEPCO remedy wasn’t adequate.

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Forte struggled to come up with an answer, finally replying that the TEPCO system is “opaque” and that there are few public records showing what plaintiffs in Japan actually receive.

Arnold & Porter attorney David Weiner argued the case for GE. The judges mostly listened quietly to his arguments and asked him only a few questions on minor points.

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