Advertising giant Dentsu Inc. admitted Friday that it was responsible for the 1991 suicide of a 24-year-old employee who had become depressed due to overwork and agreed to pay the family about 168 million yen in compensation to settle the case, a lawyer for the family said.
The settlement, first proposed by the Tokyo High Court in May, marks the first time a company has accepted blame for the suicide of an employee apparently caused by depression from overwork.
After agreeing to the compromise, Dentsu Inc. said it deeply regrets the suicide of Ichiro Oshima and will take measures to prevent similar deaths by thoroughly monitoring employees’ working and health conditions.
The amount of compensation was based on a 1996 ruling by the Tokyo District Court, which deemed the firm completely at fault and ordered it to pay 126 million yen in damages.
The amount was adjusted by adding late penalties and deducting part of the sum from workers’ compensation already paid to Oshima’s parents, Hisamitsu and Yuko, who filed the suit in 1993.
Dentsu has already paid some 111 million yen, and will pay the remaining 57 million yen by the end of June, sources close to the case said. The settlement ended a suit filed seven years ago by the parents against the company, which had refused to acknowledge any responsibility for Oshima’s suicide.
The case went as high as the Supreme Court. Hisamitsu Oshima, 71, said Ichiro’s honor had been restored by Dentsu’s apology and compensation, adding that he is satisfied with the outcome.
Hiroshi Kawahito, a lawyer for Oshima, said the settlement was epoch-making because it fully recognized the claim of the victim’s family and would affect similar pending court cases. Friday’s compromise came after the Supreme Court in March upheld lower court decisions that Dentsu was responsible for neglecting to prevent the suicide.
The top court also ruled that the ad agency was more responsible for the death than the high court had found it to be. It then sent the case back to the high court to decide on a compensation figure.
After the high court’s initial proposal in May, Dentsu said it was prepared to reconcile with the Oshimas by paying the compensation, taking into consideration the 1996 district court ruling.
Oshima, who joined Dentsu in April 1990, worked past 2 a.m. about four times per month in 1990, the district court said. He was involved in planning commercials and events for radio promotions and had 40 clients.
The frequency of his late stays increased to between five and 10 times every month in 1991, and by August of that year, he worked similar late hours on two out of every five days. Most of his overtime shifts lasted until after 6 a.m.
When Oshima went home after these shifts, he basically only changed clothes and returned to work.
Around July 1991, Oshima began to tell a superior things like, “I can’t sleep and I wake up after only two hours of sleep,” and “I don’t know if I am useful as a human being.”
Oshima hanged himself in the bathroom of his home in the Tokyo suburb of Machida on Aug. 27, 1991, after completing work on a major event for a radio program that he was responsible for.
The district court in 1996 had ruled Ichiro’s suicide was caused by depression due to exhaustion from overwork.
The court also ruled that Dentsu was at fault because it did not take any concrete measures despite knowing Oshima’s health was deteriorating.
It also ruled that his remarks and actions could have been regarded as signs of an impending suicide attempt.
Dentsu appealed the district court ruling, claiming that according to the working hours submitted by Oshima, he had only worked two to three overtime hours each day.
It also claimed that some things done by workers who stay late cannot be classified as work and that Oshima killed himself due to his family environment and personal problems.
In 1997, the high court handed down a ruling that basically supported the lower court decision but reduced the 120 million yen awarded the plaintiffs by the district court to 89 million yen.
Both Oshima and Dentsu appealed to the Supreme Court. Oshima’s death was recognized as a work-related accident in August 1998.
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