National / Crime & Legal

Japan's top court finalizes ¥1.44 billion in damages for 84 deaths at school in 3/11 tsunami

Kyodo

A ruling ordering the city of Ishinomaki and Miyagi Prefecture to pay damages over the death of pupils in the March 2011 tsunami has been finalized after the Supreme Court rejected their appeal, officials said Friday.

The top court on Thursday upheld a high court ruling awarding around ¥1.44 billion in damages to relatives of the victims, as it acknowledged the deaths of 23 Okawa Elementary School pupils could have been prevented if the city and the prefecture had updated a contingency plan.

It is the first time the top court has finalized a compensation ruling based on insufficient disaster prevention measures taken before the massive offshore quake.

The decision to reject the appeal by the two local governments was unanimously backed by the five justices on the top court’s No. 1 Petty Bench, but the court did not reveal the specific reasons.

A total of 74 pupils and 10 teachers and officials at the city-run school died in the tsunami spawned by the magnitude 9 quake on March 11, 2011.

The families of the 23 students filed a damages suit in 2014, demanding the prefectural and local governments jointly pay around ¥2.3 billion, arguing the school should have taken better tsunami measures.

According to the Sendai High Court’s ruling in April 2018, teachers instructed students to evacuate to the school’s playground, where they lingered for more than 40 minutes after the quake.

Immediately after they began evacuating to the area near the riverbank, the tsunami swept them away at around 3:37 p.m., the ruling said.

In October 2016, the Sendai District Court ruled that the city and prefecture were negligent, saying the school could have expected the arrival of tsunami when city vehicles urging evacuation passed by at around 3:30 p.m.

The court acknowledged that the school failed to choose a nearby mountain for evacuation where pupils could have been saved and ordered the city and prefecture to pay some ¥1.43 billion in compensation.

The high court raised the amount of compensation by about ¥10 million from the lower court ruling, saying the authorities failed to fulfill their obligation to revamp a risk management manual in line with the realities of the elementary school, located at a height of about 1.5 meters above sea level near a riverbank.

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