Japanese court awards over £270k in damages to family of woman killed by cyclist

Rider had already been sentenced in criminal case

by John Stevenson   January 30, 2014  

Tokyo cyclists (CC licensed image by neekoh.fi:Flickr)

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A Tokyo cyclist has been ordered to pay over a quarter of a million pounds in damages to the family of an elderly woman who died after he rode into her.

The male cyclist, who has not been named in  reports, ran a red light and hit 75-year-old Reiko Azuma on a pedestrian crossing in Ota City, Tokyo in January 2010.

According to Japan Daily Press, the judge ordered the man, now 46, to pay 47 million yen (roughly £275,000) in damages to the victim’s family. The victim’s family expressed their satisfaction with the decision despite getting less than the 100 million yen they sued for.

“Unlike in earlier criminal proceedings, the court gave our case the same treatment as it would a car accident,” said the victim’s son Mitsuhiro Azuma.

“We want this case to make cyclists more aware that bicycles have the potential to become deadly weapons,” he added.

The court heard that the rider was doing 15-20km/h (10-13mph) when he hit Ms Azuma. She died from head injuries in hospital five days later.

The cyclist was subsequently prosecuted for manslaughter and sentenced to two years in prison, suspended for three years.

In the criminal case, Presiding Judge Motoko Miki said that the cyclist caused the crash by  not paying attention to the road, and that Ms Azuma was “in no way at fault.”

The cyclist had claimed that Ms Azuma died from falling out of bed in the hospital, but the judge dismissed that allegation, saying that she incurred no other injuries from the fall except those sustained in the accident.

Tokyo is reported to have seen a huge increase in cycling in recent years, and with that has come greater attention on cyclists who are involved in accidents, especially with the elderly.

The Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011, which saw hundreds of thousands of commuters stranded as Tokyo’s subway system shut down, inspired many to take to two wheels and escape the crush of the city’s public transport network.

But the increase in cycling has been accompanied by an increase in cyclist-pedestrian accidents. In November prosecutors said they would press charges for gross negligence causing injury where appropriate. A guilty verdict can result in a fine of a million Yen (about £6,000).

Last year the Kobe District Court awarded 95 million Yen in damages against the mother of a schoolboy who hit an elderly woman in 2008.

The judge found that the mother had not “provided insufficient guidance to the child that may have prevented this accident.”

The victim sustained head injuries that left her in a coma. She was still unconscious at the time of the case, five years later. The damages were awarded to help cover her medical bills and care.

18 user comments

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Holy Japan.. Don't ride there!

[custom] '12 Cannondale CAAD10 - Rival

badkneestom's picture

posted by badkneestom [129 posts]
31st January 2014 - 11:16

16 Likes

badkneestom wrote:
Holy Japan.. Don't ride there!

Or perhaps ride sensibly, legally and carefully? Japan seems to have it right - from this story it seems vulnerable road users are legally protected in a way that they aren't here. The story says this is in line with what would happen if the woman had been hit by a car. If you hit and kill someone with a car here you'll likely get community service at worst. We need much stronger punishments for people putting others in danger through their actions.

posted by teaboy [179 posts]
31st January 2014 - 11:43

8 Likes

teaboy wrote:
badkneestom wrote:
Holy Japan.. Don't ride there!

If you hit and kill someone with a car here you'll likely get community service at worst. We need much stronger punishments for people putting others in danger through their actions.

You forget, laws here are not made for righteous reasons, they are made according to the law of the Jungle.

posted by earth [92 posts]
31st January 2014 - 12:16

6 Likes

Guess its a reminder that cyclists need to be careful around the more vulnerable (i.e. pedestrians) just as we wish motorists would be.

I guess even a fast jogger could potentially do damage to someone frail and elderly.

The Japanese system must be different though. I don't recall ever hearing of a driver or cyclist being sued for money like this after hitting someone.

Though it raises the quesion of insurance for cyclists - are Japanese cyclists all 3rd-party insured or did this one happen to be very wealthy?

(And I wonder if he tried arguing that the sun was too bright?)

posted by FluffyKittenofT... [699 posts]
31st January 2014 - 12:35

8 Likes

badkneestom wrote:
Holy Japan.. Don't ride there!

Agreed. My spiralling tally of mown-down pedestrians would be halted in it's tracks(!) - I don't think something like this is likely to affect you if you're riding considerately.

Sounds like the victim's family secured a reasonable result from the civil proceeding, as:

“Unlike in earlier criminal proceedings, the court gave our case the same treatment as it would a car accident,” said the victim’s son Mitsuhiro Azuma.

So it would appear that Japan doesn't actually have this properly sorted, contrary to this particular result.

Last night I would have considered trading a very loud baby for a really nice bike.

posted by notfastenough [3329 posts]
31st January 2014 - 12:52

9 Likes

I would expect that if damages of this level are awarded in Japan, it would quickly become common for cyclists there to take out insurance (cycling specific or household/family extension).

The actual premium per person would still be tiny considering what the national rate for such accidents must be.

I don't see a problem with the damages awarded on the basis that the cyclist was genuinely careless. The law should protect the most vulnerable on the road, starting with pedestrians.

posted by bikebot [645 posts]
31st January 2014 - 14:01

11 Likes

Wow that is a large settlement. I don't really have any sympathy for the rider as he clearly broke the law and was negligent. But, I can't imagine if a car ran a red light and hit someone they would have to pay a quarter of a million pounds!!!

posted by jarredscycling [453 posts]
31st January 2014 - 15:46

6 Likes

I know some road.cc readers are in favour of strict liability (I am not). Of those who support it, should it apply to cyclists as well i.e. you are automatically assumed to be at fault if you have an accident with a more vulnerable person and the burden is on you to prove your innocence?

Never in a hurry on a bicycle.

posted by GoingRoundInCycles [134 posts]
31st January 2014 - 17:26

3 Likes

Of course it should. The whole point of strict liability is to remind people of the importance of behaving carefully around those more vulnerable.

posted by oldstrath [151 posts]
31st January 2014 - 18:10

5 Likes

I agree, if Strict Liability were implemented in the UK it should apply to all but I do have a fundamental problem with the concept of having to prove your innocence as that is so often impossible to do.

Never in a hurry on a bicycle.

posted by GoingRoundInCycles [134 posts]
31st January 2014 - 18:15

7 Likes

Two comments. First, I thought the law in uk was that if you hit the back of someone else's vehicle you were assumed liable? So don't drivers already accept some risk of "unfairness"?

Second, certainly most of the disbenefits caused by adopting strict liability would indeed fall on motorists. But motorists also impose significant social costs which those of us who don't drive, or drive less, are compelled to bear. So we might think of this as simply an equalisation mechanism - drivers get the benefits, but if they are careless or unlucky they bear a cost burden. Maybe this pushes some away from driving. Clearly a good thing.

posted by oldstrath [151 posts]
31st January 2014 - 18:24

10 Likes

That is a good argument. I can see the logic of your position but I am still firmly on the side of Blackstone on this issue:

"All presumptive evidence of felony should be admitted cautiously; for the law holds it better that ten guilty persons escape, than that one innocent party suffer.”

Cautiously, is the key word for me. I guess that the vast majority of road users (me included) accept the notion that driving carefully must include giving yourself enough time to brake should the unexpected occur. So there can only be very exceptional circumstances where you rear end a vehicle through no fault of your own. So a cautious presumption of liability is appropriate here.

But I cannot think of too many other accident situations where presumption of liability would be appropriate. The mere fact that one vehicle is more powerful than the other or a pedestrian isn't reason in itself to throw caution to the wind. IMO.

The bottom line for me is that the law has to be fair, even if that means that sometimes it is inconvenient.

Never in a hurry on a bicycle.

posted by GoingRoundInCycles [134 posts]
31st January 2014 - 18:54

9 Likes

I take your point - we shall have to disagree, although I would point out that strict liability is not actually about felony conviction, but rather about the presumption of civil liability. A motorist (or cyclist) could be held responsible for compensation without any felony conviction.

In any event, to me fairness cannot be located only in the one incident. I believe that motorists should, because of imbalances in power, financial advantage and manoeuvrability, have a greater obligation to take care; and that the law should reflect this, even at the cost of 'unfairness' in one specific instance.

posted by oldstrath [151 posts]
31st January 2014 - 19:18

3 Likes

oldstrath wrote:
I take your point - we shall have to disagree, although I would point out that strict liability is not actually about felony conviction, but rather about the presumption of civil liability. A motorist (or cyclist) could be held responsible for compensation without any felony conviction.

In any event, to me fairness cannot be located only in the one incident. I believe that motorists should, because of imbalances in power, financial advantage and manoeuvrability, have a greater obligation to take care; and that the law should reflect this, even at the cost of 'unfairness' in one specific instance.

Again we must agree to disagree but it has been interesting to read your persuasive arguments in favour of strict liability. I am still not convinced but it has made me reconsider the issue in a different light.

Cheers.

Never in a hurry on a bicycle.

posted by GoingRoundInCycles [134 posts]
31st January 2014 - 19:35

9 Likes

Its interesting how the Japanese incidents referred to in the article have all involved elderly people. Japans society is very much dominated by the elderly as birthrates have plummeted in the past 20 years. There are obviously more vulnerable to severe injury than younger people and as there are so many of them I guess they are the obvious victims of most road traffic accidents.

It's rather harsh to fine someone £275000 for colliding with a pedestrian, whilst only riding at 10-13mph, even if they did jump a red light. Over here killing someone with a car or lorry rarely results in more than a small fine and points on the licence. Both extremes are bizarre in my view.

posted by BigBear63 [70 posts]
31st January 2014 - 21:03

9 Likes

BigBear63 wrote:

It's rather harsh to fine someone £275000 for colliding with a pedestrian, whilst only riding at 10-13mph, even if they did jump a red light. Over here killing someone with a car or lorry rarely results in more than a small fine and points on the licence. Both extremes are bizarre in my view.

Which of these is likely to make you behave best on the road?

posted by teaboy [179 posts]
1st February 2014 - 9:42

3 Likes

teaboy wrote:
BigBear63 wrote:

It's rather harsh to fine someone £275000 for colliding with a pedestrian, whilst only riding at 10-13mph, even if they did jump a red light. Over here killing someone with a car or lorry rarely results in more than a small fine and points on the licence. Both extremes are bizarre in my view.

Which of these is likely to make you behave best on the road?

The answer might depend on how wealthy you are!

I don't know enough about the Japanese legal system to answer that question. The trouble with civil liability as a sanction is if you are very, very rich you might not care, and if you are very poor you may have no assets to lose. And maybe this is all dealt with under the insurance system in Japan anyway?

Ideally the aim should be to greatly reduce the likelihood of such things happening in the first place - protect people even from their own bad behaviour. Partly through changing physcial infrastructure and partly through changing social norms and so changing what people will habitually do.

A lot of "accidents" that result from bad driving (and maybe cycling) occur becuase 'everybody does it' and so people think nothing of doing it themselves. Then the CPS, juries, and magistrates also think "everybody does it" so don't feel its right to punish the one who was "unlucky"

posted by FluffyKittenofT... [699 posts]
1st February 2014 - 16:01

0 Likes

BigBear63 wrote:
It's rather harsh to fine someone £275000 for colliding with a pedestrian,...
The figures quoted in the article were not fines but damages. And of course it was not just for colliding, but for causing death. Such amounts in the case of injury, rather than death, reflect the amount needed to care for someone who has been severely injured for the rest of their lives. The sums would be the same regardless of whether the injuries were caused by a car or a bike. Damages for death in this country would reflect whether the victim had dependents and the level of financial support they would have received over the victim's life, had he or she not been killed. It therefore seems to me a strangely large settlement for a 75 year old, who was probably retired, as it would be based mostly on the loss of a loved one, emotional support etc.
It's worth pointing out that in Japan, cycles and pedestrians share space a lot more than in most other places, and generally there are few problems. This incident took place on a road, on a pedestrian crossing.

posted by arowland [96 posts]
29th September 2014 - 16:59

0 Likes