Saturday, July 21, 2012

Accident Aftermath

Right after I was hit by the car, the bystanders called an ambulance and the police.  While I was being strapped into the gurney inside the car, and my insurance information was collected, a senior police officer arrived on the scene and collected preliminary evidence from the driver and the witnesses.  Before we left for the hospital, he entered the ambulance and commented that since I was seen running across the street, it must have been because the Walk light was flashing green before turning red.  I had difficulty remembering enough Japanese at the time to fully describe the sequence of events, but I agreed with his assessment.  From here I go to the hospital, get examined, treated, and released with the brace on my left leg.

Time goes by.  After 1 month, the same officer calls the apartment and sets up a time for us to visit him at the main Kagoshima police station (which is conveniently located right across the street from my hospital).  I go with an interpreter, and the officer greets us, then drives with an assistant to the "scene of the accident".  But, rather than asking me to give my account of the events, the idea is to confront me with the contradictions in everyone's stories.  The flashing Walk light is too short, at 5-6 seconds, so it goes red just as I would have gotten halfway across the street.  The witnesses state that the light was red at the time I was running across.  The driver claims the light was red for me, and that initially, I'd popped out between the cars in front of her without warning, later that she couldn't see me because a bus was in front of her.  Fortunately, the witnesses confirm that I was in the crosswalk up to when I got hit.  The interview ends with me maintaining my story, and the officer remaining skeptical.

Fortunately, because I was in the crosswalk, regardless of anything else, the driver's insurance company agrees to pay for the hospital bills, taxi fare to and from work, and other small incidentals as long as I keep the receipts.  Most of the advice I get during this period is from taxi drivers, who tell me that I should be guaranteed "saiban" (damages for pain and suffering) because it's the driver's responsibility to not hit anything while on the road.  But, with the witnesses saying that the Walk light was red, (and later they amend it to "red at the time of the actual impact") the only way to claim saiban is to find a lawyer and take the driver to court.  In the U.S., that wouldn't have been a problem, but finding an English-speaking lawyer, and then having to tie myself up in legal proceedings makes the outcome iffy at best.

More time goes by.  Occasionally, the officer calls to arrange another meeting to close the case, but then reschedules because of other commitments.  Finally, 3 months after the accident, I go back to the station with my interpreter.  The officer meets us, and guides us to one of the little, concrete interrogation rooms.  He then goes through the papers for the accident report, and describes what everyone else has signed to.  The driver has amended her story, saying that instead of looking around and checking the crosswalk for pedestrians, she was looking up at the street light during her turn (that and there's no longer a bus in front of her).  The witnesses couldn't remember what the Walk light was doing as I was running through the crosswalk, just that it was red at the time I went down.  That is, it turned Don't Walk just as I was reaching the halfway point across the street and about to step into the path of the car.  The car was mostly undamaged, except for a broken passenger-side mirror.  Which confuses me because I was pushed forward by the right front corner of the car and I pretty much went down right away, beside the tire.  I don't have any injuries consistent with impacting the mirror, unless I somehow managed to kick the mirror and broke my foot that way.  Anyway, that's what went into the report.

The officer was very cordial, and we talked for an hour, with the conversation ranging from good restaurants, the inconvenience of having to deal with volcano ash, the rainy season, and so on.  At the end, he asked me if, in the future in similar conditions, that wouldn't it maybe be better if I just stay at the corner and wait the 5 minutes for the light to change again.  It's certainly something I thought about myself right after the accident, that if I had just given up to aggressive drivers, none of this would have happened.  Someone else, from the military, had called it "big boat, little boat".  Whenever big boats and little boats cross paths, it doesn't matter who has the right of way, the big boat is the one that comes out unscathed.  So I tell the officer that I'll be more careful from now on, and he seems satisfied with that.  The driver is identified as being "mostly at fault" for not checking for pedestrians, but there's no talk of saiban now.

The impression I get is that rather that determining whether the driver broke the law with unsafe behavior, the entire system is geared to getting both sides to agree that each bears at least some responsibility for the accident, and for both sides to walk away without wanting to get revenge.  At one point, I was specifically asked if I held a grudge against the driver.  This was the key indicator as to whether the conflict was going to escalate.  By saying "no", I satisfied the officer that his job here was done.  (If I said that I was still unhappy with the driver, the lawyers would have to get involved, and that didn't have a guaranteed ending.)  With this, the conversation was over.  My statement was typed up, and I had to sign it and add my thumb print (since I don't have an official hanko (stamp)).  So, no saiban.  But, I'm not out any real money due to the accident, either.


Saptra Studio said...

May be I'm late for this, I just happen to learn this incident when I log in my blogspot acc today, but I'm glad you're okay. Take a good rest and recovery sir:D

TSOTE said...

Thanks for the thoughts.
How's things going with you?