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Reevaluating the Role of the Tort Liability System in Japan

Reevaluating the Role of the Tort Liability System in Japan / by Eri Osaka, Associate Professor of Law, Toyo University Faculty of Law


Japan, a civil law country, has operated its current tort liability system based on tort provisions under the Civil Code and other special tort provisions for more than 110 years. However, this tort liability system has been condemned for its shortcomings, including how complex tort cases are treated, such as tort litigation arising from a mass accident, product liability, environmental pollution, and so on. In response, Japan has adopted several administrative compensation schemes for certain types of victims,1 such as those injured by environmental pollution, medical products, vaccinations, blood donation accidents, and asbestos. Yet, as far as environmental pollution cases are concerned, the administrative compensation scheme does not work well. Rather, the tort liability system has been addressing the limitations of the administrative compensation system.

The purpose of this article is to reevaluate the role of the tort liability system in environmental pollution problems in Japan. Before going on to the main subject, Part II overviews the torts and other compensation systems in Japan, paying attention to noticeable differences with the U.S. legal system. Part III explains the historical background and outline of the pollution-related health damage compensation system in Japan. Part IV first addresses why the pollution compensation system went wrong, and then how a series of litigations based on the tort liability system have been trying to restore the failures of the pollution compensation system. Finally, Part V analyzes the role of the tort liability system in environmental pollution problems.