In April of 2018, a 35-year-old man stopped by a Summit supermarket in Suginami, Tokyo, after work to get a quick bite to eat. However, as he walked along the line of registers he accidentally slipped on a piece of pumpkin tempura.
Like most tempura foods, this kind of deep-fried pumpkin is incredibly oily, so stepping on it would likely result in a slip of unheard of velocity and suddenness, like slipping on a banana peel imbued with the power cosmic.
The slip caused light injuries to the man’s leg including a bruised right knee. In the outset of the accident the supermarket gave the man 60,000 yen, but he filed a lawsuit anyway, claiming that it wasn’t enough to compensate all his treatment as well as his pain and suffering.
The lawsuit demanding 1.4 million yen from Summit’s parent company Sumitomo Corp came in front of Judge Ayako Nagatsuma of the Tokyo District Court. It wasn’t until Dec 9 of this year that a ruling was made, but what the court lacked in speed they more than made up for in thoughtfulness.
Judge Nagatsuma explained her ruling that, on one hand, the store has a responsibility to ensure a safe environment for its customers, and since pumpkin tempura is packed by shoppers themselves using tongs, the likelihood of someone dropping a piece is high. This is a risk that Summit should have taken the appropriate measures to address.
On the other hand, it was another customer who dropped the fried slice of pumpkin rather than an employee, so they weren’t directly to blame. Furthermore, the man himself was deemed to have demonstrated partial negligence by not noticing the fallen foodstuff in the first place. This was objectively judged by careful consideration of the pumpkin’s size and color in contrast with the color of the floor.
So she ruled that both parties bore some responsibility in the accident and that the man should receive less than half of the amount he demanded, roughly 580,000 yen.
These types of lawsuits are generally less common in Japan, where people tend to take responsibility for their own misfortunes. So even though it seemed like an almost excessively well-thought-out judgment, netizens were largely angry at the verdict and sided almost unanimously with the major corporation.
“He was in the wrong for not looking where he was going.”
“That judge is crazy.”
“What about the customer who dropped it? Why is the supermarket being punished for their action?”
“I hope this doesn’t lead to pumpkin tempura regulation.”
“Those things really are slippery though.”
“Even if they dedicated a worker to constantly monitor the floor, they couldn’t prevent it.”
“I feel bad for the store.”
“If you slip, it’s your own problem, not the store’s.”
“The guy’s 35. Did he become bedridden from his bruised knee?”
“Oh, people are going to start imitating this now…”
This does set a precedent that some people may want to take advantage of, and might lead to a slippery slope of copycat lawsuits…a very slippery slope covered in canola oil, batter, and firm-but-yielding vegetable matter.
However, it would seem in this case Summit didn’t demonstrate due diligence in preventing the accident, likely because they weren’t monitoring the floor enough. As the one comment suggested, we’ll never be completely safe from pumpkin tempura, but supermarkets ought to be protected from future frivolous lawsuits by improving their self-serve systems to a reasonable standard.
In fact, a lot of stores probably already meet those standards. It’s just that in this particular set of circumstances the supermarket was found liable.
Sources: Jiji.com, Asahi Shimbun, Itai News
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