State, city admit fault in fatal beach cave-in

Kyodo

The infrastructure ministry and the city of Akashi, Hyogo Prefecture, have admitted responsibility in the 2002 death of a 5-year-old girl who was buried when a man-made beach caved in, sources said Wednesday.

The move has paved the way for an out-of-court settlement between the girl’s family and the ministry and city, the sources said.

Miho Kingetsu was walking along the beach with her father on Dec. 30, 2001, when part of it caved in and buried her. She was immediately rescued, but slipped into a coma from which she never recovered. She died at a hospital in May 2002.

In memorandums exchanged Tuesday between Kingetsu’s family, the Akashi mayor and the head of the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry’s local office in Himeji, the mayor and ministry admitted they were liable for damages under the State Redress Law.

The parties are now negotiating with a view to reaching a settlement before Dec. 30, when the family’s right to claim damages expires under the law, the officials said.

In the memorandums, officials of the ministry and the city, which are responsible for managing the man-made beach, said, “We have acknowledged liability as organizations and will not in any time in the future claim that the statute of limitations on the case has expired.”

They said they would conduct negotiations toward a settlement “in a sincere manner.” The talks are expected to conclude by March, when the city assembly votes on the municipal budget for the next fiscal year, the sources said.

According to the sources, the girl’s family has said that one condition for accepting an out-of-court settlement was for officials involved in the accident to apologize.

Separately, four ministry and municipal officials pleaded not guilty in July to allegedly failing to take safety measures at the beach.

They denied charges of professional negligence resulting in death at the first session of their Kobe District Court trial, saying they could not have foreseen the accident.

Prosecutors believe the officials neglected their duties by failing to designate danger zones even after dozens of other cave-ins had occurred at other sections of the beach before the fatal incident.

Kingetsu’s mother, Michiko, 35, said the family exchanged memorandums because it was basically seeking a settlement through negotiations.