Monday, August 15, 2011

Tsunami Repercussions and the Court Trials Begin

I see where some parents are now suing a school for sending children home by bus, despite tsunami warnings, right after the March 11 earthquake hit northern Japan. I have some thoughts about this entire episode and wonder where and how to place the blame for this mess. Is suing the school the right thing to do? Perhaps. Perhaps not. 

Who would have known that the biggest tsunami in 1000 years was going to hit Japan?

Here's the information about the court case. Of course, as always, I will comment along the way. 

Japan Times reports:

Sendai — Parents of four children killed when their kindergarten bus was engulfed by the March 11 tsunami filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the school in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, seeking compensation for its failure to ensure the children's safety.
The suit is likely the first of its kind questioning the responsibility of schools with respect to evacuation guidance after the twin disasters, the plaintiffs' lawyer said. The parents are demanding ¥260 million in total compensation from Hiyori kindergarten and its principal at the time.
The complaint filed with the Sendai District Court said the school bus carrying 12 children left the kindergarten, which was located on high ground, about 15 minutes after the massive earthquake on March 11 for their homes along the coastline — despite a tsunami warning having already been issued.
Here we get into the meat of the problem. The bus left the school for homes along the coastline? I understand that the school would want to get the kids to their home and into their parent's care ASAP after a big quake. That's a given. The sooner the kids are at home, the sooner the school responsibility for their safety ends. But driving them to homes along the coastline after a tsunami warning? Irresponsible? Yes. But is there more to this than meets the eye? I think so.
After dropping off seven of the 12 children along the way, the bus was swallowed by tsunami that killed the five children still on board. The plaintiffs are the parents of four of them.
They accuse the kindergarten of failing to gather appropriate emergency and safety information via the radio and other sources, and for not adhering to agreed safety guidelines under which the children were to stay at the kindergarten, to be picked up by their parents and guardians in the event of an earthquake.
Ah! This is important. The agreed safety guidelines. If we are to understand what this means, it says clearly that the school is accused of failing to follow agreed guidelines. Those guidelines state: "the children were to stay at the kindergarten, to be picked up by their parents and guardians in the event of an earthquake."
Seems simple enough, but I have some serious reservations about this. On the one hand, if we are to be completely strict on this interpretation, then the school is 100% absolutely in the wrong. Perhaps they should be sued.
But there are two sides to every story. What about the parent's responsibility? I think we have to look at the past to make a better judgement on this case. 
Bear with me for a moment here... 
Japan is a country of earthquakes. We have them often. Take one of these poor unfortunate children from that kindergarten who were killed in this tragic incident, let's call that child, "A-san". Were there past earthquakes when A-san was at school? If so, how was A-san taken care of after those earthquakes? Did A-san's parents pick A-san up from school, strictly according to the agreement, every time? Or did A-san's parent's allow the school to bus A-san home before?
If past experience is any indicator of future actions, then, it is irresponsible for the parents to expect that the school make a judgement call each time. If the earthquake was a small one, say a 3 on the richter scale, then did the school judge that it was safe to bus the kids home, or did the school consult with the parent's each time? Or did the parent's, strictly according to the agreement, pick up the child each and every time, after any earthquake, large or small? What were the rules? Or did we have "fuzzy" rules?
Do you see what I am getting at here? The parent's cannot have their cake and eat it too. Of course, the school would want to get the kids home ASAP. That's a given. What about past events?
Now, say, while A-san was a student at that school, there never was an earthquake of any mention to be concerned with, what then? Then I am of the thinking that the bulk of responsibility for this event lies with the parents. Why? Who decided that A-san would attend that school? Is it not the responsibility of the parents to investigate a school and decided to enroll their child in that school or not?
Who picked that school? Who was supposed to be diligent in choosing a good school with responsible leadership? The parent's did. Sure, the school may be messed up, but the child is the parent's responsibility.
When the school's responsibility trumps that of the parent's then we open an entire huge can of worms. There can never be any case where the school's responsibility trumps that of the parent.
And if I am going to be really hard assed about this, those areas hit by the tsunami are historical tsunami stricken areas. There's even ancient stones still standing there warning about building homes on low lying areas. It's happened before, it will happen again. Who bought those houses on the shoreline? The parent's did.
I am so sorry for those parents and those poor children who died in this tragic accident. I understand who painful life must be for those parents... But suing the school isn't going to bring those kids back and I think it will only increase their pain because I think they can't win in court.
After all, this was a so-called "Act-of-God" that is a rare occurance. The kids died while in a bus on the way home to their houses which are situated on the coastline. Folks, I think I see some angry, hurt parents trying to shift blame here for this incident. 
I can't understand how it is that the parent's think that the school holds more responsibility than the parents do in this disaster. No! The parent's hold much more responsibility for the kids than the school ever could.
I understand about "the agreement." I suspect that both the school and the parents were lackadaisical about it. 
Kindergarten children are in school for only a few hours a day. The vast majority of their time is spent around home. These kids, bless their souls, were in the wrong place at the wrong time. 
Had the earthquake hit an hour later or at dinner time or at night or early morning or some other time of the year, where would these kids have been? At home. At their parent's home that those parent's bought along the coastline... A coastline that was engulfed by a tsunami and destroyed... And not for the first time either.
The parents suing the school will not bring those children back... Nor will it placate their guilt and responsibility in this matter. 
School's need to stick by the book and not allow parent's to shirk their responsibility. Parents need to take a more holistic view on their children's safety.
In fact, today's parents depend on school for far too much so this is why we have so many problems with the family and complaint's about "today's youth".

The parent's might win this court case, but they won't win any money. They can't. Japanese law does not allow for "damages." If they did, it's one more step towards Japan becoming screwed up like the USA with court cases like this popping up everywhere. What I mean by that is people make bad decisions on life and do irresponsible things (like driving with a hot cup of coffee on their lap) and then suing someone else for their lack of common sense.

This case in Japan reeks of some jerkoff lawyer convincing these poor suffering parents to sue when they can't possibly win.
I will have a post tomorrow on this subject from a different aspect on how a school might have set itself up for being sued in court by defying a parent's demands. This parent was at the school to pick up a child yet the school would not allow that child to leave! Had that child gotten hurt, then that parent probably could sue the school!
The situation is similar to above but while the impetus of responsibility always lies with the parent, the school defied a parent's demands.


Kevin Riley said...

Not to be cold-hearted, but I'd like to see this case thrown out of court. The tsunami was a disaster that no one could foresee. We do not need people laying blame and suing each other. We definitely don't need to become like the US, and have everyone suing everyone.

Anonymous said...

Well, I wouldn't say, "The tsunami was a disaster that no one could foresee." I think that was the whole point of the old marking stones on the hillside... The tsunami was entirely foreseeable.

- clark

Anonymous said...

While I am no expert in law by any means, this situation is probably a case of, "Hard cases make bad laws." It is a lose-lose situation. There will be no winners. Reading situations like this plucks my motherhood heart strings.


Anonymous said...

I completely agree with M. This is a sad case and the tragedy grows as people hearts harden. It will take a long time for people to heal.

Anonymous said...

Hm, tough call. Basically I agree with Mike's take. But. what if the school and the bus-drivers made a string of stupid decisions? Wouldn't it be a good thing if that was brought to light? On the other hand, maybe I can foresee the results of that: a higher "price" put on personal initiative, resulting in more dithering while everyone waits for the word to come down from above.

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