friday, 11 october of 2019


Japan´s top court finalizes ¥1.44 billion in damages for 84 deaths at school in 3/11 tsunami

A ruling ordering local governments in northeastern Japan to pay damages over the death of pupils in the massive tsunami of 2011 has been finalized, with an appeal rejected by the Supreme Court, officials said Friday.

The top court on Thursday upheld a high court ruling awarding around ¥1.44 billion in damages to relatives of the victims, as it acknowledged the deaths of 23 Okawa Elementary School pupils could have been prevented if the city of Ishinomaki and Miyagi Prefecture had updated a contingency plan.

It is the first time the top court has finalized a ruling which orders compensation due to insufficient disaster prevention measures taken before the huge earthquake.

The rejection of the appeal by the two local governments was unanimously decided by the five justices at the top court’s No. 1 Petty Bench, but the court did not reveal specific reasons for their decision.

A total of 74 pupils and 10 teachers and officials at the city-run school died in the tsunami that followed the magnitude 9 earthquake on March 11, 2011. The tsunami engulfed children and teachers as they began evacuating to an area near a 7-meter-high riverbank.

The families of the 23 students filed a damages suit in 2014, demanding that the prefectural and local governments jointly pay around ¥2.3 billion, arguing the school should have taken better anti-tsunami measures.

According to the Sendai High Court ruling in April 2018, teachers instructed students to evacuate to the school’s playground, where they stayed for more than 40 minutes following the quake.

Immediately after they started evacuating to an area near the riverbank, the tsunami engulfed the pupils and teachers at around 3:37 p.m., the ruling said.

In October 2016, the Sendai District Court ruled that the city and prefecture were negligent, saying the school could have expected the arrival of a massive tsunami when city vehicles urging evacuation passed by at around 3:30 p.m.

The court acknowledged that the school failed to choose a nearby mountain for evacuation where pupils could have been saved and ordered the city and prefecture to pay some ¥1.43 billion in compensation.

The high court raised the amount of compensation by about ¥10 million from the lower court ruling, saying the authorities failed to fulfill their obligation to revamp a risk management manual in line with the realities of the elementary school, located at a height of about 1.5 meters above sea level near a riverbank.

(Published by The Japan Times, October 11, 2019)

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