Relatives of 25 of the 44 people who died in a 2001 fire in Tokyo’s Kabukicho entertainment district filed a 1.25 billion yen compensation lawsuit Friday with the Tokyo District Court against six people and the company that manages the building.
The six include Shigeo Segawa, 61, who effectively owns the four-story Meisei 56 building in Shinjuku Ward, and Kazuo Yamada, 50, whose firm Kurume Kosan runs the building, as well as managers of the building’s tenants. Kurume Kosan was also sued.
All six were arrested Tuesday on suspicion of professional negligence resulting in death.
Although police believe the fire, which broke out at around 1 a.m. Sept. 1, 2001, was probably an arson attack, they suspect inadequate safety measures at the building led to the death of the 44 victims.
The suit is demanding 50 million yen in compensation for each of the 25 victims, totaling 1.25 billion yen.
“We had no choice other than to file the lawsuit, to make sure that the victims did not die in vain,” one of the plaintiffs told reporters.
Another plaintiff, Masachika Mitsuhashi, said, “We are now at the starting point in our fight. We plan to work together (to win the damages).” He lost his 18-year-old son in the fire.
According to the suit, Segawa as the owner and Yamada as head of management had an obligation to provide adequate fire prevention measures. But the two allowed garbage and other items to be left on stairways and landings, resulting in fatal amounts of carbon monoxide quickly filling the tenants’ floors after the fire broke out.
The plaintiffs claim the defendants had placed obstacles across evacuation routes and created a situation in which customers and employees did not know the whereabouts of the emergency exits or fire-fighting equipment, resulting in the 44 deaths.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Police said they are close to concluding that the fire was arson and are looking for the culprit.
The fire started near a third-floor landing.
Relatives of seven other victims plan to file a second suit in mid-March, bringing the total number of damages being sought to 1.6 billion yen.
As well as the 44 who died, three people suffered injuries after jumping from windows to escape.
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