Japanese kindergarten ordered to pay $1.8 million over tsunami deaths

Police officers search for tsunami victims two years after the disaster in Ishinomaki, Miyagi prefecture on March 11, 2013.

Story highlights

  • Kindergarten ordered to pay $1.8 million to parents from four families
  • Sendai District Court told that staff sent children home on a bus straight into tsunami
  • Five children and one staff member on the bus were killed in the disaster in March 2011
  • The verdict is the first of its kind in Japan and is expected to affect other cases

In the first ruling of its kind in Japan, a court has ordered a kindergarten to pay almost $2 million to the parents of four of five children who were killed after staff put them on a bus that drove straight into the path of an oncoming tsunami.

Sendai District Court ordered Hiyori Kindergarten to pay 177 million yen ($1.8M) to the parents of the children killed in the aftermath of the 2011 mega-quake that measured 9.0 on the Richter scale, according to court documents.

Chief judge Norio Saiki said in the verdict that staff at the kindergarten in Ishinomaki city, which suffered widespread destruction in the March, 2011, disaster, could have expected a large tsunami from such a powerful quake.

He said the staff did not fulfill their duties by collecting sufficient information for the safe evacuation of the children.

"The kindergarten head failed to collect information and sent the bus seaward, which resulted in the loss of the children's lives," Saiki was quoted as saying on public broadcaster NHK.

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In the verdict he said the deaths could have been avoided if staff had kept the children at the school, which stood on higher ground, rather than sending them home and to their deaths.

The court heard how staff placed the children on the bus which then sped seaward. Five children and one staff member were killed when the bus, which also caught fire in the accident, was overtaken by the tsunami.

    The parents had initially sought 267 million yen ($2.7 million) in damages. Local media reports said the decision was the first in Japan that compensated tsunami victims and was expected to affect other similar cases.

    Ishinomaki was one of the worst-hit cities in the earthquake and tsunami which hit on March 11, 2011, killing 15,883 people.