Japan’s Supreme Court absolves parents of responsibility in “football death”

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’s Supreme Court on Thursday reversed a civil ruling regarding the death of an elderly man that began with a wayward football.

The incident, which took place in the Ehime Prefecture city of Imabari in 2004, occurred when a 12-year-old boy sent a shot over a net which had been placed near the school gate during a game of football with his friends.

The ball fell into the path of an 85-year-old local resident who broke his leg after swerving to avoid a collision.

The man was diagnosed with dementia soon after the injury, with his death by pneumonia a year and a half later prompting a lawsuit by his surviving relatives.

“The parents raised their child appropriately,” said judge Yoshiki Yamaura in issuing the decision. “Insofar as there are no exceptional circumstances, they can’t be held responsible for a normal activity such as playing football.”

The ruling reverses decisions in Osaka’s District Court and High Court which found the boy’s parents guilty of failing to adequately warn their child of the potential dangers of playing the sport, awarding damages of 50 million yen that were later reduced to 15 million yen.

“We might as well tell our children not to play in parks or playgrounds,” the boy’s father told Asahi last month following oral arguments.

Thursday’s ruling is potentially groundbreaking in Japan, where civil law has unconditionally assumed that parents are responsible for the actions of their children.