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Japan:  Settlement in Brain Wasting Illness Case - 2002-03-01

The Japanese government has officially accepted a court-brokered settlement in a brain-wasting illness case. This decision may set a precedent for future medical lawsuits in Japan.

The Japanese government agreed Friday to pay damages to each of 20 families, ending a five year legal battle. Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Chikara Sakaguchi says the government has an obligation to accept the court's decision that a settlement be reached.

Mr. Sakaguchi says that "the government will pay 3.5 million yen, about $26,000, as condolence money to each family which lost someone to disease."

The families had sued saying their relatives had contracted a brain-wasting illness from tainted medical transplant material.

The courts ordered the settlement last week, after ruling that the health ministry was responsible for allowing the transplant material, called human dura matter, to be imported from Germany, despite evidence showing it posed health risks to humans.

The court said the ministry ignored a U.S. warning in 1987, saying the dura matter had been linked to a case of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a fatal brain disease.

The judges also said that the German company, B-Braun Melsungen, which supplied the transplant material, shared responsibility. The firm agreed to the settlement on Wednesday and will pay additional damages. The victims will receive $87 million.

Legal observers here in Japan see the settlement as a precedent, and say it is likely to be a model for future compensation claims for medically-induced diseases in Japan.