A court has ordered the parents of a boy who accidentally kicked a ball into the street to pay nearly $200,000 in compensation after he, in the court’s view, caused the death of an 87-year-old motorcyclist who fell off his bike in an effort to avoid the ball, breaking his leg and later going senile only to die over a year later as a result of an infection stemming from a feeding accident.
According to the Osaka district court, the incident began in 2004 at a public elementary school in Ehime prefecture, where pupils were practising their football skills by making practice free kicks at a goal.
One fifth year elementary student made a kick which went high, going over the goal posts and into the street beyond. There, it so happened that an 86-year-old man was driving down the street on a bike, and swerved to avoid the ball, crashing and breaking his leg.
He survived, but became senile soon after, and then died some 15 months after the accident as a result of pneumonia contracted after some food accidentally became lodged in his windpipe.
5 members of the man’s bereaved family decided to sue the boy for causing his death, demanding ¥50,000,000. As the boy was a minor at the time of the accident (he is now 19), he could not be held legally responsible, but his parents could, and so the family sued them instead.
In their defence, the boy’s side argued “nothing illegal occurred as he was just normally kicking the ball at the goal.”
The court was having none of it – the judge’s verdict was that “he could have predicted the ball would land in the street and cause an accident,” though he did at least stop short of ordering him to pay compensation, saying “the boy was a youth and bears no legal responsibility for the accident, but his parents do have a duty to pay compensation.”
Accepting that the dead man’s life was drastically altered by his encounter with the stray football, the court ordered the parents to pay up to the family, but reasoned that as the man already had neurological problems prior to the incident they would only have to pay ¥15,000,000 of the ¥50,000,000 demanded of them.
Such a fine example of jurisprudence has not escaped criticism:
“Don’t they normally put up nets around these places?”
“The issue is not the kid, it’s the lack of safety nets.”
“Shouldn’t this responsibility lie with the school which didn’t bother to put nets up and could have predicted the ball would land in the street themselves?”
“If they can sue anyone it’s the school, not the parents!”
“Couldn’t they sue the school and city?”
“Asking 50,000,000 for an 87-year-old man who died as an indirect result of an accident seems a bit much.”
“This old guy was driving a bike at 87? And they sue the boy’s parents? What kind of Japanese are they?”
“Poor parents, suddenly plunged in debt like that.”
“It seems a bit odd that they are attributing his death by misfeeding to this…”
“All ball games in Japan are going to get banned as a result of this, no doubt.”
“Common sense would tell you to expect balls flying out of schools occasionally.”
“Anyone with a car or bike must predict that they could encounter a ball like that. Doesn’t anyone in the court have a driving license?”
“So this 86-year-old man with a known neurological condition was riding a motorcycle around a school?”
“This poor kid and his family have been left worrying about this stuff throughout his childhood for the last 7 years, with no end in sight if they continue to fight the ruling.”
“This verdict is nuts.”
“If he had died right there it might be justifiable.”
“Don’t steal a child’s future for the sake of a dead 87-year-old.”
“I wonder if the bereaved family will be satisfied now the school has banned all ball games?”
“Remember: when you kick a ball you might cause an old man to fall off his bike, go senile and have to be nursed only to be misfed and die.”