Railway accidents involving dementia patients a serious issue in aging society
At least 149 railway accidents involving dementia patients or those suspected of having dementia claimed the lives of 115 people in the eight-year period ending in fiscal 2012, underscoring the need for prompt measures in a rapidly aging society.
Railway companies are required to report accidents to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, which the ministry compiles into official records. Through a freedom-of-information request, the Mainichi Shimbun obtained the ministry's records and police reports from fiscal 2005 on -- when the Long-Term Care Insurance Act was revised -- and found that because many accident reports did not note that those involved had dementia, the actual number of dementia patients in railway accidents may be even greater.
Many of the accidents are believed to have occurred due to wandering dementia patients entering dangerous areas that were not fenced off, or ducking under crossing bars, because they were unable to recognize the dangers of doing so. Some were found walking on tracks for several hundred meters, while others were hit by trains as they walked on bridges and in tunnels.
A 73-year-old woman who was killed in an accident in Osaka in January 2008 is believed to have climbed onto the tracks through an iron fence door located at the end of the station platform for railway staff. In other cases, people were killed as others were searching for them using information transmitted from their GPS systems.
In August 2013, the Nagoya District Court ordered the family of a dementia patient killed in a railway accident to pay approximately 7.2 million yen in damages to Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai), siding with the company's claim that the family had neglected its responsibility to look after the victim. The family has since appealed the ruling.
Members of an association of families of people with dementia said it was impossible to watch dementia patients every single minute of the day, and expressed concern that being held to such heavy responsibility would stop many families from taking care of those with dementia in their own homes. In 2012, there were an estimated 8.62 million dementia patients -- including around 4 million people with mild cognitive disorders -- or about one in every four senior citizens.
The Mainichi Shimbun spoke with the bereaved families and other insiders whose names and addresses could be identified in 10 accidents involving nine railway companies, including the abovementioned case with JR Tokai.
According to the families, in addition to the ongoing JR Tokai case, Tobu Railway Corp. in two cases, and Kintetsu Corp. and the Nagoya Railroad Co. in one case each, had demanded bereaved families pay between approximately 160,000 and 1.37 million yen in damages. The company that demanded some 1.37 million sought damages for overtime wages paid to employees and the cost of alternative transport as a result of the accident. In this and another case, the amounts were reduced over the course of deliberations, but in all four cases, the bereaved families paid damages.
No compensation was demanded in the five other cases involving Hokkaido Railway Co. (JR Hokkaido), East Japan Railway Co. (JR East), West Japan Railway Co. (JR West), Kyushu Railway Co. (JR Kyushu) and Nankai Electric Railway Co. According to the bereaved families, JR East said that it would "not demand compensation because it was confirmed the person in question had dementia," and Nankai said, "While we suffered a loss of approximately 1.3 million yen, we will not demand compensation."
JR East said that it did not communicate its intentions to the family in those terms, but that it was true that the company had deliberated the case and based on the facts, decided not to demand compensation. Nankai, meanwhile, said it would refrain from commenting on the case.
While there is a trend among JR companies not to claim damages in such accidents, it is not uncommon for other railway companies to demand compensation as a rule.
According to the General Insurance Association of Japan (SONPO), personal liability insurance may cover damages caused by railway accidents. Such insurance is usually a special provision of auto and fire insurance policies, and premiums run around several thousand yen annually. But because railway accidents are not always interpreted as being subject to such insurance policies, SONPO urges consumers to confirm eligibility with insurance companies.
In fiscal 2012, 295 people died in railway accidents. Suicides, meanwhile, whose data are separated from non-suicide railway accidents, numbered at 631.
January 13, 2014(Mainichi Japan)