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HOME  > Past issues  > 2016 March 2 - 8  > Top court pardons liability of relatives of a man with dementia hit by train
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2016 March 2 - 8 [SOCIAL ISSUES]

Top court pardons liability of relatives of a man with dementia hit by train

March 2, 2016
Families of an estimated five million dementia patients gave a sigh of relief with that judgement. The Supreme Court on March 1 ruled that a 93-year-old wife of a man killed by a train and their son who has been living far away from his parents for 20 years are not responsible for paying compensation to the railway company.

The fatal accident occurred in December 2007 in Obu City in Aichi Prefecture. A 91-year-old man with dementia left home while his wife was taking a nap. He was hit and killed by a JR train after wandering onto the station premises.

A district court ordered the wife and the son, who lives more than 300 kilometers away from the parents, to pay about 7.2 million yen in compensation for having failed to monitor his behavior. A high court also acknowledged the JR claim, ordering the wife to pay about 3.6 million yen.

The Supreme Court, however, overturned the lower courts’ decision and for the first time presented a yardstick for determining the obligation of families in supervising persons suffering from dementia. The top court stated that the actual circumstances of caregiving should be comprehensively taken into account.

The number of persons with dementia is said to be more than five million and will be more than seven million by 2025. The previous court decisions greatly shocked caregiving families. Feeling the agony of despair, many of them were saying, “All we can do then is to keep the demented relative shut up at home.”

The Alzheimer’s Association Japan has been pointing to the need of a social system that will provide relief to prevent private companies, train operators, or individuals from paying for damages caused by dementia persons in addition to the need to create a system so that families can take care of their demented members without having to face additional anxieties.

After the top court ruling, Takami Kunio of the association said, “The other day, the son was telling me that he would feel sorry for all the caregivers in Japan if the Supreme Court upheld the lower court judgement.” He said he wants the extraordinary care and desperate efforts families of demented persons are making to be understood by the general public.

Tabei Yasuo, also a member of the association, said he wants the latest judgment to help promote understanding of families who rely on neighbors and the police for relatives who have a tendency to wander off.

Lawyers Asaoka Teruhiko said that the government should take appropriate measures to support communities and prepare for the future of coping with seven million persons with dementia.

Past related articles:
> Gov’t policy to confine dementia patients in hospitals provokes public anger [February 11, 2015]
> Gov’t should take measures to handle responsibly people with dementia [September 26, 2014]
> Caring for elderly with dementia only by family members has limitations [April 28, 2014]
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