The family of a 91-year-old man with dementia who was killed by a train after wandering onto railway tracks argued Tuesday before the Supreme Court that holding them liable for disrupting train services would essentially deny that healthy and disabled people can coexist in society.
The case will be the first time the nation’s top court rules on the liability of families of dementia patients. The decision is expected to be handed down March 1.
Traditionally, when the Supreme Court holds a hearing, a high court ruling is usually overturned. This means the top court is likely to issue a different ruling than the Nagoya High Court, which held the dementia patient’s wife liable in 2014.
The claim by train operator Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai) “is equivalent to labeling people with disabilities as dangerous,” said Teruhiko Asaoka, a lawyer representing the family during Tuesday’s session. “The issue surrounding dementia is the same as that of people with disabilities in general.”
A JR Tokai representative claimed both the wife and older son are responsible because they did not fulfill their obligation to monitor the man’s behavior.
According to lower court rulings, the man wandered onto the tracks in Obu, Aichi Prefecture, in 2007 and was hit by a JR Tokai train while his wife was napping at home.
The man had an advanced case of dementia and was believed to lack the ability to comprehend his own actions. His elderly wife, who was also in need of care, and his older son’s wife, who was living nearby, had been caring for the man.
JR Tokai sued the man’s wife and her older son, who was not living with his parents, for ¥7.2 million over the disruption of the railway’s service after he was hit, saying the son shared responsibility for the man’s care.
Article 714 of the Civil Code states that guardians are responsible for damages caused by actions of people without capacity to assume liability if they fail to properly supervise them.
In 2013, the Nagoya District Court ruled that the family was liable, ordering both the wife and son to pay the full amount demanded by JR Tokai.
The amount was later reduced in 2014 by the Nagoya High Court, which ordered just the wife to pay ¥3.6 million. Both JR Tokai and the family appealed that ruling to the Supreme Court.
The number of dementia patients in Japan is projected to reach 7 million by 2025, nearly 1 in 5 of every person aged 65 or older, according to the health ministry.