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Michelin-rated restaurant in Osaka ordered to compensate cook's family for overwork death

A joint government building housing the Osaka district, high and summary courts is seen in Osaka's Kita Ward. (Mainichi/Kazuhisa Soneda)

OSAKA -- A court has ordered a famed French restaurant in this western Japan city to pay some 84 million yen in damages to the family of a cook who died from a heart disorder, ruling that his death was caused by overwork.

In the Feb. 21 ruling, Presiding Judge Kae Kanaji of the Osaka District Court recognized that the man's monthly overtime had reached some 250 hours and that immune deterioration due to overwork contributed to the development of his disease.

The restaurant, located in Osaka's Chuo Ward, was acknowledged in the Michelin Guide, and has been popular among gourmands. The man had been working at the establishment since 2009. He developed acute myocarditis in November 2012 and died from a brain hemorrhage in June 2014, at age 33.

After his death, his parents and wife filed a suit demanding that the restaurant pay them 98 million yen in damages. They argued that its owner failed to provide for his safety.

According to the ruling, the deceased man had worked from around 8 a.m. till the predawn hours the following day on a daily basis, and sometimes even had to work on his once-a-week regular holiday due to reservations. Fatigue stemming from the long working hours and a lack of sleep caused his immune system to deteriorate, leading him to be infected with some kind of virus and develop myocarditis, the court heard.

Presiding Judge Kanaji stated that the chef who owned the restaurant failed to allow the cook to take time off work even after he complained of feeling unwell.

"The owner did not take any measures to alleviate the man's burdens. Their negligence is obvious," the judge said. "If the owner had increased staff numbers and taken other steps, it is likely that the consequences could have been avoided."

Following the ruling, the man's wife told reporters, "The restaurant industry still thinks they can use up employees and then throw them away. I want to make sure no cases like this ever happen again."

In addition to the damages suit against the restaurant, the man's family has separately been seeking to have his death officially recognized by the Osaka Chuo labor standards inspection office as being work related. In December 2014, the office refused to grant such recognition, but the Osaka District Court in May 2019 ordered it to nullify its decision, recognizing that there was a causal relationship between the man's overwork and his death. The central government appealed the ruling, and the case is pending in court.

(Japanese original by Hiroshi Muramatsu, Osaka City News Department)

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