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The Tokyo District Court has ordered a man — and a companion who had been drinking with him — to pay damages to the family of a student killed in a 2001 drunk-driving accident.

The man’s employer must also pay part of the total of 58 million yen in damages awarded to the family.

In a ruling handed down Friday, Presiding Judge Kunio Sakuma held the driver’s drinking companion jointly responsible for the fatal accident, saying he was aware that his friend was unfit to take the wheel and should have known he would try to drive home.

He “failed to perform his obligation” to prevent the situation from unfolding, Sakuma said.

Legal experts say the decision is unique for finding a drinking companion jointly responsible for a fatality, though there have been many cases when fellow passengers have been found culpable.

The judge turned down demands that the driver’s wife also be found liable, saying she could not have stopped her husband from driving because she was at home at the time.

The suit was filed in 2004 by the family of Sachie Masabayashi, a 19-year-old university student killed when she was hit by a light van in Sakado, Saitama Prefecture, in the early hours of Dec. 29, 2001.

The family sought 81 million yen.

Along with Masabayashi, a 20-year-old female student was killed and a male student was injured in the accident.

Those named as defendants were the man, now aged 37, the construction machinery company employing him at the time, which owned the van, his 33-year-old fellow drinker, and the man’s wife.

The plaintiffs accused the wife of failing to stop her husband from continuing to drink and drive despite knowing he frequently drove under the influence of alcohol.

The court found that the man drank beer and “shochu” at bars, together with his companion, for more than six hours before heading for home in the van. The man, who was convicted of reckless driving resulting in deaths and injuries, is serving a seven-year prison sentence.

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