Court considers hardship of caring for senile in lawsuit over rail death
Last week’s ruling by the Nagoya High Court posed a weighty question: How can we establish a system that will enable people to live at home after developing senile dementia?
The case, which was sent to the court on appeal, involves a suit filed by the Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai) seeking compensation from the bereaved family of a man with senile dementia who died after being struck by a train—an accident the railway company claims caused damage because it delayed the train schedule. The high court ordered the man’s wife, who was caring for her husband at home, to pay compensation.
There have been a considerable number of cases in which elderly people with dementia have wandered away from their home and become involved in train accidents. The issue is something people providing nursing care for family members can relate to.
The accident occurred when the man wandered out and entered the train tracks after his wife had briefly dozed off.
In the first trial at the Nagoya District Court, the presiding judge said that the danger of the man being involved in an accident, if he went out, was predictable and that “the wife was at fault for neglecting her duty to constantly watch over him.”
The high court, on the other hand, ruled that such an accident had not been predictable. The court also rejected the claim that she was at fault for neglect, which constitutes illegal behavior, by taking into account the fact that the wife was trying hard to nurse him. But it still acknowledged her responsibility of paying compensation as the person obliged to supervise her husband since he could not be legally held accountable.
24-hour watch impossible
It is virtually impossible for family members to watch sufferers of senile dementia they care for around the clock. If family members are made to shoulder excessive burdens, more and more people will have second thoughts about caring for such patients at home.
The fact that the high court halved the amount of compensation the family has to pay in this case indicates it took into consideration the hardship of nursing care givers.
Furthermore, the high court pointed out a blunder on the part of JR Tokai, saying, “It can be presumed that the accident could have been prevented” if the railway company had locked an opening in a fence, from which the man is believed to have entered the tracks.
The court also said, “It is the social responsibility of public transportation entities to improve safety” by paying consideration to people unable to understand the danger of accidents. We hope all railway companies will take this point seriously.
At a time when the number of senile dementia patients has surged in recent years to 4.6 million, and there are long waiting lists to enter special nursing homes for the elderly, it is difficult to care for senile dementia sufferers at nursing facilities alone.
In 2012, about 9,500 went missing because of senile dementia, of which 359 people were later found dead. It is essential to expand and improve the system for supporting nursing care at home in addition to coming up with measures to prevent accidents involving elderly people who wander away.
The government, for its part, should establish around-the-clock visiting nursing care services as well as medical institutions that would dispatch a doctor to the home of a patient whose symptoms have worsened.
It is indispensable to involve community members in countermeasures. The city of Omuta, Fukuoka Prefecture, which sends e-mail alerts to citizens whenever a senile dementia sufferer goes missing, can be a good example for other local governments.
It will also be necessary to study the advisability of establishing an insurance system that would compensate railway companies for accidents involving senile persons.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 27, 2014)