Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Ya' gotta admire a society

in which there are so few lawyers. So said a co-worker this evening when talking about a Japanese company's legal department that he visited in the past. Seems there was only one attorney working there. Now this is one sharp dude---a US guy from a Rocky Mountain state who admires Japan's "unique" four seasons---so I curious as to why he thought so. Well, it turns out that he has never worked in law enforcement, never sued or been sued, and apparently never been in a position where he felt that he personally needed to hire a lawyer. Therefore, lawyer=bad. He even said so. Lawyers are "scum." Lawsuits and all. Hmmm.

He was blessedly unaware of the little situation in Yokohama in 2002 where a defective Mitsubishi-made wheel came off of a large truck, rolled on the sidewalk striking and killing a young mother. Others had been killed or injured by this type of defective wheel and Mitsubishi, bless their hearts, lied about it and tried to cover it up. Only when the facts became public did the company give a sincere and heartfelt apology to the families of those whom they had helped kill.

After being acquitted once, in the summer of 2008 the three top executives were found guilty of falsifying the report in that fatal accident and were given the harsh penalty of ¥200,000 (apx $2000) each. A few others connected with the case received the usual suspended jail sentences. (I like that. I think I'd become some sort of criminal if I could be assured of a suspended sentence. Yea, embarrassing, but low-risk and potentially very profitable.)

Damage suits are relatively rare, and companies are rarely required to pay more than a token amount. Even when convicted of criminal wrongdoing, executives of companies are generally handed lenient sentences with no prison terms. IHT here.

Oh, the 29 year old mother who was killed by Mitsubishi's negligence? Her family received 5.5 million yen (about $55000. I recall reading earlier that it was only ¥250,000):

The court was ruling on a 165 million yen damages suit -- 65 million yen in compensation and 100 yen in punitive damages -- against Mitsubishi Motors and the government. It ordered the truck maker to only pay 5.5 million yen to the mother of 29-year-old Shiho Okamoto, who was killed when she was struck by a wheel that flew off an MMC truck. Okamoto's two children were also hurt.

The government was not ordered to pay any damages.

"Imposition of punitive damages, aimed at punishing an offender, is not congruous to our country's legal system," the three-judge panel said in the ruling. Judge Hiroyuki Shibata read out the decision on behalf of presiding Judge Hiroshi Yamamoto, who had been transferred to another court. Japan Times here.

It's fine to admire that. Probably good to admire how the Minamata/Chisso industries mercury poisoning case was handled too. After all, although lawyers and victims finally won some compensation nearly 40 years after the fact, at least they weren't able to win huge amounts like they could have elsewhere. What's a little pain, suffering, and mercury poisoning when you have industries to build?

Given the track record of success above, one wonders why the Japanese are so reluctant to sue? A mysterious cultural trait?

...there is no direct statistical data showing that such a stigma prevents claimants to sue. An empirical research made by the Justice System Reform Council in 2000 showed that 46.2% of parties felt reluctance to use civil procedure. However, among the top reasons for this reluctance were the time (72.0%) and the cost (67.2%) required to go through a case. By contrast, cultural reasons, such as negative influences on one’s social appearance (19.9%) and fear of exposure to the public (18.0%), ranked low. This result may not suggest that most Japanese citizens are indifferent to the stigma in suing because the respondents were limited to those who had used civil procedure in the past, but it does suggest that the time and cost of litigation may have substantial influence on litigants' behavior. Japanese Law Resources here.

Huh? Time and money? Ohhhhh. How inscrutable! And how hard it is to imagine such a reason, especially when the results---if you are fortunate enough to succeed---would be something in the order of $55,000 for a young mother's life.

Yep. Lawyers and the ability to sue are bad. It's a real shame that the government has been making an effort to increase lawyer numbers (while hoping to avoid company-damaging suits I'd guess.) Imagine that. Citizens could conceivably get more power. Cursed Western influence.

No comments:

Post a Comment