National / Crime & Legal

Top court upholds tsunami death ruling against city of Higashimatsushima

JIJI

The Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that found the city of Higashimatsushima, Miyagi Prefecture, responsible for the death of an elementary school student swept away by the March 2011 tsunami.

Effective Wednesday, the Supreme Court’s Second Petty Bench turned down the city’s appeal of the Sendai High Court’s ruling in 2017, which backed the Sendai District Court’s 2016 order to pay about ¥26 million ($238,000) in damages to the family of the student from Nobiru Elementary School.

The girl was engulfed by the tsunami after a classmate’s parent instructed her to go home, even though her parents were away. The school allowed the classmate’s parent to take the girl home as an exception.

Tsuneyuki Yamamoto, presiding justice of the petty bench, judged that the principal should be held responsible for handing the girl over to someone other than her parents.

It is the first time the top court has finalized a ruling in favor of a family in a lawsuit related to the disasters, people familiar with the matter said.

In its ruling, the high court said it was impermissible for the school to allow someone other than a preregistered guardian to take the student home.

It also backed the conclusion by the district court in Sendai that the girl’s death was foreseeable because the city’s hazard map showed she had to pass through tsunami flood zones on her way home.

In the meantime, the Supreme Court rejected an appeal by the family of an 86-year-old who was among the evacuees at the school gymnasium and died when the tsunami hit it.

Seeking compensation, the family claimed the school failed to provide proper evacuation instructions.