A former truck driver, his former employer and other concerns were handed a court order Thursday to pay 250 million yen in compensation to the parents of two infant sisters killed in a traffic accident he caused while driving drunk in 1999.
The 59-year-old driver and the Kochi Tsuun transportation company must pay about 170 million yen of the penalty in 15 annual installments as compensation for the victims’ estimated lost earnings.
The overall compensation includes a 34 million yen solace payment for each death, a record amount for victims of a traffic accident, according to the ruling by the Tokyo District Court.
Each annual installment, worth 2.7 million yen for each victim, must be paid Nov. 28, anniversary of the day the 3-year-old and 1-year-old sisters were killed. These payments are to begin in the years that each girl would have turned 19 — a year after they would have become potential full-time wage earners.
Some 44.5 million yen for each girl must be paid in a lump sum in the 16th year of the installment scheme.
The court calculated that the girls could have expected to earn wages equivalent to 85 million yen each if they had lived. This amount is covered by the 15 annual installments plus the final lump sum.
It is rare for a court to hand down such a high penalty over a fatal traffic accident. Presiding Judge Yoshinori Kawabe described the drunken driving as malicious and willful negligence, saying it “led to a result that was immensely grave.”
Yasutaka Inoue, 53, and his wife, Ikumi, 34, had filed a damages suit seeking 356 million yen in compensation, requesting it be paid in annual installments over a 15-year period. They said they wanted the driver to continue paying for the crime throughout his life.
The driver was drunk when the truck he was driving hit the Inoues’ car on the Tomei Expressway in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo, on Nov. 28, 1999. The car burst into flames, killing the two sisters and injuring the parents as well as three people in other cars.
He was sentenced in June 2000 to four years in prison.
The prosecution appealed that ruling at the parents request, saying the sentence was too lenient. The high court rejected the appeal.
The Inoues initiated a movement calling for harsher penalties for terrible accidents, such as those caused by drunken driving. They asked the justice minister to review penalties for serious crimes on the road and submitted 370,000 signatures collected nationwide in support of a review.
The protest led the government to establish a new criminal charge of dangerous driving resulting in death or injury in 2001, on the second anniversary of the sisters’ death. It carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison,
Recently, a number of families of accident or crime victims have demanded compensation be paid in installments in the hope that the perpetrators would be made to repent over an extended period of time.
In a civil suit over the murder of a girl in Tokyo’s Bunkyo Ward, the Tokyo District Court ordered the defendant in December to pay 80,000 yen in compensation every month on the day of her death for 20 years.
Road deaths down
The number of people killed in traffic accidents in the first six months of the year dropped by 11.1 percent from a year earlier to 3,500, the lowest since 1970, the National Police Agency said Thursday.
The number of fatal traffic accidents has been declining in recent years. The NPA said the fall accelerated after a tougher road traffic law went into effect in June 2002.
Fatal traffic accidents involving drunken driving in the January-June period of this year dropped by 29.8 percent, to 375 cases, over the corresponding period last year.
The number of people injured in traffic accidents went up slightly, to 557,789.
Of the fatal accidents, 1,452 people were killed inside their vehicles — 54.4 percent of whom were not wearing seat belts — and 579 were killed while riding motorcycles and 400 while riding bicycles. The death toll of pedestrians totaled 1,062.
People aged 65 or older accounted for 38.5 percent of the traffic fatalities, at 1,349.