The ruling in a civil case filed by Tepco shareholders marks the first time that a court has held former executives responsible for a nuclear disaster, local media reported.
The court ruled that the leadership could have prevented the catastrophe if they had exercised due care.
“One accident at a nuclear power plant results in irreversible damage to both human lives and the environment. The leaders of companies that operate such plants also have a huge responsibility that is incomparable with other companies,” said Yui Kimura, a member of the plaintiff.
“I think the court’s ruling says that anyone who does not have the determination or ability to take on that responsibility should not become an executive director,” Kimura said at a press conference following the ruling.
Public broadcaster NHK quoted an unnamed lawyer representing the former executives as saying the lawyer would not comment until he carefully reviewed the verdict.
A Tepco spokesperson also declined to comment on the decision.
“We understand that the decision in this case was made today, but we will refrain from answering questions about individual court cases,” the spokesman said.
The decision marks a departure from a ruling in a criminal trial in 2019, when the Tokyo District Court found three Tepco executives not guilty of professional negligence, holding that they could not have foreseen the huge tsunami that hit the nuclear power plant.
The criminal case has been appealed and the Tokyo Supreme Court is expected to rule on the case next year.
A civil lawsuit filed by Tepco shareholders in 2012 demanded that five former Tepco executives pay the beleaguered company 22 trillion yen in compensation for ignoring tsunami warnings.