Family of man with dementia killed by train wins liability appeal

TOKYO —

The Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled in favor of the family of a 91-year-old man suffering from dementia, who went wandering outside and was hit and killed by a train in Aichi Prefecture. The family had appealed a ruling by the Nagoya High Court to pay compensation to the train company, Central Japan Railway Co (JR Tokai), for damages incurred by the disruption of its services.

The ruling was the first of its kind in Japan, Fuji TV reported.

In the case, which occurred in Obu city in December 2007, the man was killed after he walked aimlessly onto the tracks. JR Tokai sought 7.2 million yen in reparations from the man’s wife and 63-year-old son, although the son had not lived at home with his parents for 20 years.

In its 2013 ruling, the Nagoya court ruled that the wife bore some responsibility for the events leading up to the accident, but that the son could not have done anything since he didn’t live with his parents. In 2014, the court reduced the amount to 3.6 million yen.

The court heard that on the day of the fatal accident, the wife who was 85 at the time, dozed off in the afternoon. Her husband managed to leave the apartment and began wandering around the neighborhood. He walked onto the train tracks and was struck by a train and killed. Following the accident, all trains along the JR Tokaido line were delayed for over two hours, and the entire schedule for the rest of the day was disrupted.

In filing the suit for 7.2 million yen in damages, JR Tokai argued that the man’s family should have predicted that he might go wandering off, as he had done so two times before.

During the first hearing in 2013, the Nagoya District Court ruled that the family was responsible for the accident, and ordered them to pay the full amount to JR Tokai. However, the son appealed.

In the second ruling in 2014, the Nagoya High Court upheld the district court’s decision but dismissed the son’s responsibility and reduced the amount of damages to half of the original amount, finding only the wife liable.

However, the man’s wife, now in her 90s, her son and JR Tokai appealed that ruling to the third petty bench of the Supreme Court which began hearing the case last month.

The court ruled that the man’s wife was herself in need of nursing care and that it was not reasonable to expect her to be able to keep an eye on her husband 24 hours a day.

At issue was the interpretation of Article 714 of Japan’s Civil Code. It states that “the person with the legal obligation to supervise the person without capacity to assume liability shall be liable to compensate for damages that the person without capacity to assume liability has inflicted on a third party; provided, however, that this shall not apply if the person who has the obligation to supervise did not fail to perform his/her obligation or if the damages could not have been avoided even if he/she had not failed to perform his/her obligation.” It also says that “A person who supervises a person without capacity to assume liability, on behalf of a person who has the obligation to supervise, shall also assume the liability under the preceding paragraph.”

The case has garnered a lot of attention on the plight of elderly people suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease who are not being cared for in facilities.

In 2014, according to National Police Agency figures, more than 200 people suffering from dementia wandered off from their homes for large periods of time without their family members knowing it. Most were found after a short time, but others were found days later—some dead, some alive—while others remain missing.

Japan Today

  • 19

    BurakuminDes

    Sanity prevails - thanks to the Supreme Court.

    Cop that, heartless JR executives!

  • 13

    smithinjapan

    Thank the gods! I hope JR is made to pay damages to the man's family now, as well as the court costs, and perhaps try to learn from this mistake of theirs and focus on solving THEIR own mistakes (like abuse of employees). Thank you, Supreme Court!

  • 13

    SenseNotSoCommon

    Corporate monolith: 0; Common sense: 1

  • 12

    TigersTokyoDome

    Good. The prosecution was heartless. Now go and sue JR Tokai for not putting up proper protection from their train lines in a residential area.

  • 4

    Futaro Gamagori

    good news to the family.

    so who is liable for this incident then? i mean, i've heard about those people who were affected by all the delay and inconveniences (individuals as well companies) who are seeking damages. just wondering how this can be sorted out as a whole.

  • 6

    marcelito

    This is what the original ruling should have been. Agree with all the comments above. Sanity, at last.

  • 7

    M3M3M3

    @Futaro Gamagori

    so who is liable for this incident then?

    Nobody. The only person who could have been liable is the 91 year old man, but the law exempts him from liability since he had dementia. Is that fair? Who knows. But it's an interesting point to consider that there are people walking among us who cannot be sued even if they cause us some harm.

    But even if the train company could have sued his estate, it's unlikely that he would have had any money or property in his name. Taking the extreme step of going after the wife and son was the only realistic option if they were going to sue anyone. I'm glad they lost. This will be an important case going forward.

  • 8

    TakahiroDomingo

    how could the JayAr bosses live with such a dirty conscience, accusing the wife and son for the accident? that's pure injustice, yakuza-style culture. it's a disgrace to japan.

  • 6

    zones2surf

    Outstanding ruling. Very happy that sanity prevailed.

    I despise the idea that if something happens, somebody must be blamed. Sometimes accidents happen. Terrible, horrible accidents that are no one's fault.

    In this case, JR should have seen it for the human tragedy it was, sucked it up and born the costs. If money is such a big deal, maybe they should carry insurance to cover these sorts of things. Or just forgo a few months of the "business entertainment" for the senior executives.

  • -22

    talaraedokko

    Disagree with most comments. If the old man had dementia why didn't the family take more precautions against his just wondering out? The son lives far away. Wife is tired. Poor excuses for irresponsibility. It's a society where no one wants to take responsibility. That's the problem. Am I my brother's keeper? Geez, the old man is the father / husband. If this isn't enough to get one's conscience moving then nothing else will. Lock doors. Do something. Just take responsibility. JR was right this time.

  • 2

    kurisupisu

    The laws of society have to reflect the state of society. Now the onus is on companies to ensure the safety of their present and past customers instead of just profiteering from them-finally Japan has a chance at turning into a caring and compassionate society with judicial rulings such as these!

  • 9

    sakurala

    Tala: The wife tried her hardest to make sure he was safe. She DID lock the door. Do you think the family is happy that he died and others were disrupted? I'm sure that they grieved for the loss of this man and also felt the horrible responsibility for what happened. However to drag them to court for years on end and make them relive those emotions, especially when the wife's health is failing is just inhumane. However, JR could have invested their money into some fencing in populated areas to prevent things like this from happening.

  • 5

    sangetsu03

    In every other developed country railroads have insurance to pay for the cost of disruptions, and have had such pretty much since the invention of railroads. Can't Japanese railroads move up at least to the 19th century? . It is utterly absurd that Japanese railway companies and Japanese law can make third parties liable for the actions of another. It is so silly that I am tempted to avoid using JR and driving or flying when traveling around Japan.

  • 0

    M3M3M3

    @talaraedokko

    As I pointed out the last time this story came up, families are not legally obligated to care for their relatives. They could have avoided this financial risk by dropping him off at the nearest hospital and saddling the taxpayers with the cost of 24h care and paying damages to JR Tokai. Don't you think there should be extra protections for non-professional carers seeing how much money they save all of us?

    Of course, you can argue that once the wife voluntarily assumed responsibility she should be held to certain reasonable standard of care, but the court here is saying that she didn't fall below that standard. She couldn't stay awake 24/7.

  • 6

    Disillusioned

    I think their sute went against the wrong party. Yeah, JR should share some responsibility, but the main responsibility should go to a health insurance and pension system that makes an 83 year old women be responsible for a 90 year old dementia patient. Japanese people pay stupid amounts of health insurance and retirement pension funds only to get bugger all support in retirement. If this old fella was suffering dementia he should have been in full time care and not the responsibility of his spouse. She, being in her mid-80's should also have had at least regular home care (they both should have had it), but what do you get when you retire in Japan? A pittance pension check once a month and a letter from the emperor when you turn a hundred. The rest is up to you to pay for! Oldies do get discounts on medications and health care, if they can go to a hospital and wait all day, but there is no special needs care covered by the pension a health insurance system that these people have been paying into for more than forty years. It's absolutely disgusting that, in a country that 'claims' to be so rich, makes people pay into health insurance and pension funds and also 'claims' to have great respect for their elders has such an abominable aged health care and support system!

  • 6

    Himajin

    talaraedokko, so easy to say when you know nothing about taking care of someone with dementia. They put an sensor on the front door that rang in the wife's room as he most often tried to get out at night. The day of the accident, he had been up all night wandering, and his wife watched him all night. She drifted off to sleep on the living room sofa while sitting there, and he managed to get out the unalarmed back door. Alzheimer's patients can be relentless in tying to get back to their childhood homes. Some will seize any chance to get out a door.

  • -3

    Cookie TIme

    It makes me cry to think about the feelings of his family, especially his wife. Sudden loss of a loved one is sad enough but they were asked to pay for the damage. However, it is also true that JR suffered damage from the incident. It also caused trouble to JR commuteres because of the delay caused by the incident. I understand that his family is not liable for the incident and payment. However, I also think that it is not fair for JR that they will get nothing for the damage. If nobody has to be liable for the damage in a case like this, how a victim of an incident cover the cost or damage caused by the accident? This is an extream case though, what would happen if a person suffering from dimentia stabbed someone to death? It would be just like, the victim had no luck??

  • 5

    bullfighter

    Oldies do get discounts on medications and health care, if they can go to a hospital and wait all day, but there is no special needs care covered by the pension a health insurance system that these people have been paying into for more than forty years.

    (1) The required period to get a pension is 25 years.

    (2) Elderly people do not need to go to a hospital for ordinary treatment. Neighborhood clinics handle many issues.

    (3) There is in fact special provision in the health insurance system for the elderly AND a separate system of geriatric care insurance (Kaigo Hoken in Japanese) that provides various levels of care including the dispatch of home helpers depending on the level of need.

    (4) The Japanese system certainly has problems but generally European and American geriatric care specialists give it high marks.

    (5) That the elderly woman in this case was caring for her husband at home may have been a matter of choice. Not all elderly people want to go into care facilities even when they are available.

  • 2

    wontond

    Disagree with most comments. If the old man had dementia why didn't the family take more precautions against his just wondering out? The son lives far away. Wife is tired. Poor excuses for irresponsibility. It's a society where no one wants to take responsibility. That's the problem. Am I my brother's keeper? Geez, the old man is the father / husband. If this isn't enough to get one's conscience moving then nothing else will. Lock doors. Do something. Just take responsibility. JR was right this time.

    Right or wrong, who cares? This family has struggled with caring for their patriarch with dementia,and then lost him in a brutal accident. JR was being petty, and shamelessly displaying a lack of compassion.

  • 2

    sf2k

    I don't understand why the train company was allowed to sue an entire family to begin with. Thanks to this reversal they should be counter-sued for not doing enough to keep their tracks safe. In a skyrocketing elderly population that's the only reasonable outcome

  • 3

    wtfjapan

    ** JR was right this time.** ah no they wernt, the highest court in Japan has ruled the family not at fault, JR was wrong to sue them for that. The end. what JR need to do is take responsibilty and put up adequate gates to stop children/ dementia patients from crossing tracks when train are approaching, or they will probably be more people killed by its trains and more losses for them.

  • 1

    sir_bentley28

    JR probably makes that 7.2 mil in about a day based on its copious amounts of commuters. How in all good things did JR expect to obtain that amount of money from a 91 year old woman with no real money and a son who lives nowhere close to them? The greed of some will be the end of many.

  • 2

    Monozuki

    Yesterday, I'd watched a Japanese TV news program giving the news massive coverage, and I came to know that taking care of elderly people with dementia involves great hardship that can be felt only by those who actually experienced it. And yes, I want to give credit to the supreme court decision this time around. Good for the family!

  • 0

    Aly Rustom

    the Nagoya court ruled that the wife bore some responsibility for the events leading up to the accident,

    How about NAGOYA city bearing responsibility for not providing adequate care for its citizens with dementia like mandatory and free retirement homes OR not using federal cash to construct a tunnel so that people don't have walk on the tracks to get to the other side?

    How about JR bearing some responsibility for not erecting proper barriers to prevent those people with diminshed capabilities from getting killed OR for actually running the man over?

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