Suit against tsunami-hit bank fails

Kin tried to hold employer liable for evacuating victims to roof

Kyodo

The Sendai District Court ruled Tuesday against the plaintiffs in a damages suit brought by relatives of three bank employees killed by the huge tsunami generated by the March 11, 2011, earthquake.

The relatives were seeking about ¥235 million from 77 Bank, a regional bank based in Sendai, the capital of Miyagi Prefecture.

In rejecting the lawsuit, the three-judge panel led by Norio Saiki said the bank could not have expected such huge tsunami to strike.

The families immediately appealed the ruling.

The three employees were among 12 employees at 77 Bank’s branch in Onagawa, Miyagi Prefecture, who evacuated to the roof at the order of the branch manager but were swept away by the tsunami. The manager also died. Only one branch employee survived.

Saiki said the order to flee to the office roof was reasonable as a series of aftershocks was hitting the region, rejecting the plaintiffs’ claim that the bank failed to take sufficient safety measures for its employees.

The relatives argued that the bank should have directed the employees to Mount Horikiri, some 260 meters away, the area designated by the Onagawa Municipal Government as an evacuation site during natural disasters.

Saiki said the bank could not have expected that huge waves would engulf the 10-meter-high building and that the branch manager’s decision to evacuate them to the roof was not in appropriate.

In 2009, 77 Bank revised its natural disaster guidelines, designating the branch roof as an evacuation point in addition to the mountain.

The bank released a statement after the ruling that its successful defense in court did not alter the sense of grief over the loss of 12 employees.

The bank also said it will do its best to raise anti-disaster awareness among employees.

One of the plaintiffs was Yasuo Takamatsu, 57, whose wife, Yuko, died at the age of 47. He told reporters that he regretted the court’s decision, saying the ruling was a defeat for those seeking to have firms do a better job of managing their employees’ safety.

Another plaintiff, Takayuki Tamura, 53, whose son, Kenta, died at age 25, said he will continue trying to get firms to improve their anti-disaster measures.

For a similar damages suit, the Sendai District Court ordered Hiyori kindergarten in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, last September to pay ¥177 million in damages over the deaths of four children, who were killed when the school’s bus was swamped by the tsunami.