It would be a gross understatement to say that large numbers of Japanese take to the roads and highways during Golden Week. One of the topics drivers have been discussing among themselves over the holiday period, reports Shukan Post (May 8-15) is the judgment handed down by the Fukui District Court last April 13, concerning a fatal accident that had occurred on a national highway the previous Dec 4.
On that day, the driver of a car dozed off behind the wheel and crossed the center line, colliding head-on with an oncoming vehicle. The male passenger in the front passenger's seat in the car whose driver had dozed off was killed. The driver, a university student, and the operator of the oncoming car both suffered serious injuries.
The family of the deceased blamed the student, and filed a lawsuit. The court ordered payment of 67 million yen in damages. But on top of that, the court also ordered the man who drove the oncoming car to pay the deceased's family an additional 40 million yen.
In other words, the driver of the car that never violated the law or deviated from its own side of the road was judged culpable in the passenger's death.
What is the logic in that?
The driver of that vehicle maintained that he was not at fault; the court ruled otherwise.
It was this decision jammed the Internet bulletin boards with lively exchanges.
The attorney representing the defendant was quoted as saying "To my knowledge, a decision that puts liability on a car that is struck head on by another car that had veered across the center line is irregular to the extreme." He added however, "In this case, the attorney for the plaintiff claimed that the driver was liable because he had made no effort to avoid the head-on collision."
The attorney for the plaintiff declined to comment to Shukan Post.
The court decision was based on extenuating factors, such as the car whose driver fell asleep had veered across the line at a distance of about 80 meters before the collision. This particular national highway had one lane in each direction, and as there were other vehicles in the same lane as the car that fell asleep, even if the other driver had swerved across the center lane to avoid colliding with that car, he would have stuck another oncoming vehicle. In other words, an accident would probably have been unavoidable in any case.
The plaintiff, however, claimed that the driver of the car had sufficient time to react -- either by braking hard or at the very least by sounding his horn -- so with the right presence of mind it was argued he could have avoided a collision. Therefore he should be judged at fault, and obliged to pay compensation.
"A motor vehicle has the capability to cause death or injury, and Japan's Automobile Liability Security Act is designed to support accident victims," attorney Takayasu Kamo tells the magazine. "To be relieved of responsibility in an accident, a driver must clear three conditions of the law."
Those conditions are 1) That there was no negligence in attention while operating the vehicle; 2) that an accident be due to the fault of a third party apart from the injured party or driver; and 3) it would be clear that no fault can be assigned.
Kamo points out that the ruling to pay the 40 million yen was made without any means of conclusively proving that the driver of the oncoming vehicle was at fault due to negligence in attention.
The unfavorable ruling brings with it other penalties to the driver as well. The amount of discount on auto insurance will be reduced at least three grades, so he'll be paying higher premiums. And as unbelievable as it may sound, losing a civil claim may possibly even leave him open to the filing of criminal charges, as well as the revoking of his driver's license.
People need to remind themselves that driving can carry all sorts of risks, Shukan Post cautions its readers.© Japan Today