Parents’ liability in fatal accidents examined

Parents’ liability in fatal accidents examined
The athletic fields of a primary school, from which a stray football ball flew onto the road in Imabari, Ehime Prefecture.

The question of whether parents should be held liable for accidents caused by their children has been raised ahead of a Supreme Court ruling to be made Thursday in a closely watched case involving an elderly man's death.

In the first and second rulings, the courts ordered the parents of an 11-year-old boy to pay at least ¥10 million in compensation. However, the top court is expected to overturn the lower court rulings, likely handing down a fresh judgment on the liability held by a child's legal guardians and how such cases should be handled.

The accident occurred in February 2004 in Imabari, Ehime Prefecture, when the sixth grader was playing football with other children on a primary school's athletic fields after school.

The ball the boy kicked toward the football goal flew over the 1.3-meter-tall school fence and landed in an adjacent road. A man in his 80s, who was riding a motorcycle, fell to the ground trying to dodge the ball.

The man was hospitalised for a broken leg and other injuries, but died of pneumonia about 16 months later.

In 2007, the man's bereaved family filed a civil lawsuit against the boy and his parents, demanding damages.

Both the Osaka District Court and the Osaka High Court found the boy negligent - thereby recognising a causal relationship between the accident and the man's death - and demanded the parents pay damages. In the second ruling, the high court ordered them to pay about ¥11.8 million.

Article 714 of the Civil Code stipulates that legal guardians are liable for damages in accidents or similar incidents caused by children or individuals who lack the competence to be held responsible for their actions, such as elderly dementia patients.

Those who are deemed to have fulfilled their duty as a guardian are not held responsible.

But in the Imabari case, the first ruling did not absolve the parents from responsibility.

In the second ruling, the court said: "That it occurred on school grounds does not necessarily mean that children there can play however they like. Thus the parents, who failed to give their son an adequate understanding of the situation, did not fulfil their duty as guardians."

In the past similar lawsuits, courts recognised the guardians' responsibility in almost all cases.

In 2005, a ball thrown by a fourth-grade boy playing catch accidentally hit the chest of another primary school student who died as a result. The Sendai District Court ordered the fourth grader's parents to pay about ¥60 million. The case was later settled at the Sendai High Court.

In Aichi Prefecture, the Central Japan Railway Co. filed a suit against the wife of a male dementia patient who died after being hit by a train, demanding damages for the delay in service following the fatal accident.

After the Nagoya High Court ordered her to pay about ¥3.6 million, the wife appealed to the Supreme Court.

Appeals in the Imabari case were held at the Supreme Court on March 19, making it likely that the top court will reexamine the second ruling. If the top court rejects the parents' liability, the ruling could have a significant impact on society.Speech

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