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Sendai court upholds ruling bank not responsible for employees' tsunami deaths

12 Comments

The Sendai High Court has upheld a ruling by a lower court last year in which the Shichi-ju-shichi (77) Bank cannot be held responsible for the deaths of its employees in the March 11, 2011 disaster.

The Sendai District Court dismissed a suit by the families of three deceased employees in February 2014. After that ruling, the families appealed to the Sendai High Court.

One of the plaintiffs was quoted by local TV as saying, "I hoped that this damages suit would improve safety measures and risk management, but the court showed that we are not stepping forward but stepping back.”

The three bank employees were among 12 employees who died in the tsunami after they were ordered to evacuate to the roof of the bank building in Onagawa, Miyagi Prefecture. A 13th employee, who was also on the roof, survived.

The relatives had sued the Sendai-based bank for 230 million yen in damages.

The focal point of the suit was whether or not the bank management could have foreseen that a tsunami would have been higher than the roof which was 10 meters high. The plaintiffs argued that the bank should have ordered staff to evacuate to higher ground rather than send them up to the roof.

The presiding judge said in the verdict, handed down on Wednesday, that “It would have been difficult to predict that a tsunami 20 meters high would hit the building."

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12 Comments
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If Japanese employees were told to go to the roof by higher authority, they will follow it. Which is good, but unfortunately in this case, they were sent to death in their working time, by bank management, which was not ready to handle this situation. Dificulty to predict higher tsunami is too easy argument to me. Lesson learned, always listen to your own instincts. I am happy I did my own decisions on 3/11 and after reading this, I always will.

-6 ( +5 / -11 )

Difficulty to predict tsunami is too easy argument for me.

??? are you a nostradamus? you could predict it would be 20m high? noone expected a tsunami and certainly not a 20m high one.

and even if they would find out it would be 20m high which would be during the rising of the water there would be no chance to escape.

11 ( +11 / -1 )

I can understand why the families of the deceased would want to find some sort of redemption in the tsunami aftermath. However, I think many charges of wrongful death are brought about by a reactionary sense of grief. The families are hurting, as is completely to be expected, but I'm sure they know that nothing would have changed, even if they had won the case. A natural disaster is a natural disaster. They can't be predicted accurately, and you can't blame a superior for panicking and giving an order that they could not have known would be a death sentence.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

??? are you a nostradamus? you could predict it would be 20m high? noone expected a tsunami and certainly not a 20m high one.

There have been tsunamis in the past that were way over 20m. One in 1896 topped 38m. The Okujiri tsunami in 1993 topped 31m. Tsunami marker stones can be found miles inland throughout Tohoku. If it's happened before, it can (and probably will) happen again. No need for predictions.

1 ( +6 / -5 )

I feel for the families, but I agree with the ruling in this case. Yes there have been tsunamis in the past that were over 20m, but no one could have predicted with great accuracy that one would be that big after the earthquake. I am sure that the early warning systems alarms were sounding and hopefully they had done drills in the past for emergency response training, but to automatically know that one would be over 20m at the time is not something that I would blame the bank for.

Now if the manager told them to remain at their desks and continue to work until the end of the shift and wait until someone from upper management or the government told them to evacuate, that's a different story.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

Captain Hindsight (South Park season 14 episode 11) is back. I can't sympathize with these families law suit. Yes, it was a very sad incident where thousands of lives were lost. But no, unless they have experienced something like that, I don't think anyone could have had any idea how destructive the tsunami was going to be. What if they evacuated to a higher building around the area and that building was also swept away? Was there enough time to reach stable and higher ground? Were they forced into evacuating to the rooftop by the management?

2 ( +3 / -1 )

i think the company had a reasonable tsunami policy. 10 meters is pretty high considering the majority of tsunamis are only a few centimeters in height. the families need to move on and find closure to their grief.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

No need for predictions.

Exactly. Disaster experts are well aware of how awareness and perception of risk fades with the passing of time, and how long time gaps between events makes tsunamis and earthquakes even more dangerous. It's the main reason Japan and Chile are the safest countries in the world to be in if you find yourself in an earthquake, the frequency keeps the memories fresh and the danger is respected. Countries thought to be "safer" because quakes are much more infrequent in reality are much more dangerous, as memories fade with each generation. And fading of memory is what happened with the tsunami, making people unaware of the risk and what to do. Doesn't have to be like that either. Shortly after the tsunami a Japanese woman told me her brother was at his office was on the waterfront in Ishinomaki on March 11th. She saw my face and then said "Oh, don't worry he's fine. He knew what to do. When the shaking stopped he started running and he never stopped". Unfortunately too many people, including both the victims and the bank management in this article, didn't know to do that.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I'm guessing the managers that told them to get up on the roof are also no longer alive. That being the case, going after the bank for cash seems pretty frivolous.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I truly enjoyed reading everyone's comments. Lots of good points. I too see that the only way the bank should be held responsible if they forced them to sit at their desks and work!! This natural disaster was more than most anyone expected. I don't blame anyone. Winning the suit won't bring them back. Hopefully everyone has learned more about tsunami prevention and people will be safer in the future.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

There have been tsunamis in the past that were way over 20m. One in 1896 topped 38m. The Okujiri tsunami in 1993 topped 31m. Tsunami marker stones can be found miles inland throughout Tohoku. If it's happened before, it can (and probably will) happen again. No need for predictions.

We drove through Rikuzentakata in April 2011 and there were signs 'expected tsunami inundation area end.'

Presumably this was based on historical data.

Beyond those signs was devastation.

I guess my point is that history doesn't always give sufficient warning.

In this case I believe it was standard procedure to go the roof in the event of a tsunami. Its certainly the case in shizuoka schools. It's also worth remembering that you can't out drive a tsunami as the number of victims found trapped in their cars would indicate. lots of what ifs from that day and whilst hindsight is all well and good, in this case it can't provide one hard and fast rule of what the victims should have done.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

"The plaintiffs argued that the bank should have ordered staff to evacuate to higher ground rather than send them up to the roof." Then the relatives could sue because the staff died running to higher ground. This tsunami was one of the largest in recent history but, no one could predict that.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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