Subsequent Court Case
Reports on the incident were filed by the JAF and race organizers. One of the reports stated that Ota did not wear a fire resistant balaclava as required; which he denied. Also, the report stated that the safety team started fighting fire 20 seconds after the accident, but the reality was the flames of Ota's car were first fought by fellow drivers 50 seconds after the crash while Ota was still trapped inside.
As a result, Ota filed a damages suit for about ¥290 million ($2,500,000 US) against seven organizers for their failure to implement proper safety measures in Tokyo District Court in November 1999. Those held liable included circuit operator, Fuji Speedway, series organizer, Japan Automobile Federation (JAF); the race operator, VICIC (Victory Circle Club) and broadcaster TV Tokyo.
On 29 October 2003 six race sponsors and promoters including TV Tokyo, VICIC and Fuji Speedway were found guilty of gross negligence. The success of the lawsuit was due to the recorded TV coverage of the incident which was shown in court. The responsible parties were ordered to pay ¥90 million ($800,000 US) compensation for pain and suffering, on the grounds that their first aid response was poorly prepared and their race marshals were poorly trained. The judge, Tsuyoshi Ono, decided that organizers neglected their responsibility, as Ota was left in his burning vehicle for longer than the 30 seconds in which he should have been out of the car. The organizers had failed to take sufficient precautionary measures, such as having fire engines on standby as is required to extinguish fires and rescue drivers in 30 seconds or less.
The judge determined the pre-race agreement between Ota and the organizers not to pursue legal action in the event of an accident was unacceptable. Despite his written pledge to organizers not to seek compensation in the event of an accident, which all drivers were required to sign, the judge ruled it unfair and said it runs counter to public order and morals. Ono added that the pledge, branded by him as a "death pledge," aims to exempt organizers from responsibility, allowing them to benefit economically from races.
The judge ruled that the safety car was driving at an excessive pace of 150 km/h rather than at the safety pace of 60 km/h, causing the accident when it suddenly slowed down and determined the "fire fighting and rescue preparations were also not up to scratch."
The judge ruled that Ota was partially responsible as he did not decelerate early enough. Ota was satisfied with the outcome.
TV Tokyo denied any responsibility themselves throughout the case, as they did not regard themselves as one of the race organizers. The court found TV Tokyo guilty of gross negligence for attempting to avoid responsibility for its part in the incident.
The claim against JAF was rejected as they could not be held responsible.
Read more about this topic: Tetsuya Ota
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