The Tokyo District Court on Wednesday ordered Fuji International Speedway Co. and the organizers of a 1998 car race to pay some 90 million yen in damages to a driver who sustained serious burns in an accident during the event.

The driver, Tetsuya Ota, 43, had alleged that the track manager and the organizers of the event, Japan GT Championship, failed to guide the cars properly at the start of the May 1998 race and neglected to take appropriate rescue measures. He had demanded 290 million yen in compensation.

According to the court, when the vehicles entered their second preliminary lap behind the pace car, some racers mistook it as the start of the race and accelerated, leading to collisions. Ota’s car caught fire.

International racing rules dictate that staff must be positioned to be able to extinguish fires and take proper action within 30 seconds of an accident, but in the 1998 race it took more than a minute for rescue vehicles to arrive at the scene. Burns from the accident left Ota physically disabled.

Presiding Judge Tsuyoshi Ono ruled that the accident was the result of the acceleration and sudden deceleration of the pace car, and the failure of race officials to give proper instructions.

He said the track’s accident-response capabilities were lacking, and determined there was negligence on the part of the organizers, which included television broadcaster TV Tokyo.

The court ruled that the written waiver drivers are required to sign before a race promising not to seek compensation even for accidents caused by organizer negligence was “extremely improper and unfair, and thus invalid.”

After the ruling, Ota said he was gratified that the court recognized the truth behind the accident.

“I continued this lawsuit with the belief that good races can only take place when safety is ensured,” he said. “While I unfortunately cannot return to racing, I hope this ruling helps propel the sport forward in Japan.”

TV Tokyo issued a statement saying it would study the ruling and hold discussions with the other parties involved before deciding whether to appeal.

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