A 92-year-old former top bureaucrat sentenced to five years in prison over a fatal Tokyo car accident in 2019 was ordered Friday to pay around 140 million yen ($932,000) to bereaved family members of the accident that sparked a debate on elderly drivers in rapidly graying Japan.

The Tokyo District Court ruled that Kozo Iizuka, a former chief of the now-defunct Agency of Industrial Science and Technology, had demonstrated "unilateral and significant negligence" in the accident by continuing to press the gas pedal.

Takuya Matsunaga (R) and Yoshinori Uehara, the father of Matsunaga's wife Mana, hold a press conference after a court ruling in Tokyo on Oct. 27, 2023. (Kyodo)

Furthermore, the defendant "did not even try to offer an apology and continued with unreasonable excuses until the ruling in the criminal case was handed down," said Presiding Judge Kaoru Hirayama.

According to the final ruling, Iizuka ran a red light after mistaking the gas pedal for the brake, hitting and killing Mana Matsunaga, 31, and her 3-year-old daughter Riko, as they were cycling through a crosswalk in Tokyo's Ikebukuro area on April 19, 2019. Nine others were injured in the incident.

How much weight would be given to the severity of the accident and Iizuka's negligence in determining the amount of compensation was the point of contention in the case.

Nine plaintiffs, including Takuya Matsunaga, 37, who lost his wife and child in the accident, had sought around 170 million yen in total damages. They argued that Iizuka's neglect of "a fundamental duty of care" by not applying the brakes on a road with clear visibility was "malicious."

The court awarded damages to Matsunaga, his parents and the father of his late wife.

"I want to tell (my wife and daughter) that the fight is over," Matsunaga said in a press conference following the ruling.

Matsunaga and other family members had argued that Iizuka, who was 87 years old at the time of the accident, "had significantly overestimated his driving skills" in not surrendering his driver's license.

The high-profile case stirred debate on preventing accidents involving elderly drivers and prompted many drivers of advanced age to give up their licenses.

The civil lawsuit was filed in October 2020. Iizuka's five-year prison term was finalized in September 2021, and he was incarcerated in the Tokyo Detention House the following month.


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