Analysis of SIDS-related civil and criminal court cases in Japan
, H. Nishida
, H. Kato
, S. Fukui
, E. Nishizawa
, R. Kurihara
, A. Sawaguchi
Department of Legal Medicine, Tokyo Women’s Medical University School of Medicine, 8-1 Kawada-Cho Shinjuku, Tokyo 162-8666, Japan
Maternal and Peinatal Center, Tokyo Women’s Medical University School of Medicine, 8-1 Kawada-Cho Shinjuku, Tokyo 162-8666, Japan
Department of Law, Keio University School of Law, 2-15-45 Mita, Minato, Tokyo 108-8345, Japan
SIDS Family Association Japan, 5-45-12 Yoyogi, Shibuya, Tokyo 151-0053, Japan
Department of Emergency Medicine, Tokyo Women’s Medical University School of Medicine, 8-1 Kawada-Cho Shinjuku,
Tokyo 162-8666, Japan
Thirty-three sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)-related civil and criminal lawsuits in Japan were retrieved from judicial
precedent databases ‘‘Hanrei Masutar (Judicial Decisions Master)’’ and ‘‘Hanrei Taikei (Judicial Decisions System) using
‘‘SIDS’’ as a keyword. Sleeping posture and developmental stage of occurrence were studied in each of the cases retrieved,
whether or not a legal autopsy had been performed. The inﬂuence exerted on court decisions by Japanese deﬁnitions of SIDS as
well as the relationship between causes of death and court decisions were studied. Of 33, two were criminal cases (business/
professional negligence on the part of the defendants, leading to death), and the rest were civil cases (claims for damages).
Because the decision handed down in both criminal cases was ‘‘cause of death unknown’’, these defendants were found innocent.
One of these cases was argued in both the court of appeals and the superior court: these courts found SIDS to be the cause of
death and consequently the claim for damages was rejected. Both criminal and civil courts dealt with another case: the former
found the cause of death to be ‘‘unknown’’ and the defendant innocent, while the latter, ﬁnding SIDS the cause of death, declined
to review. In cases where the sleeping posture was prone, courts tended to decide the cause of death to be suffocation, especially
Because diagnosis by exclusion is required in cases of a legal autopsy for SIDS, the diagnosis is difﬁcult without an autopsy.
Disagreements between the results of legal autopsy and court decisions occurred in eight cases. With such a discrepancy, a
detailed case examination is necessary. In 1983, SIDS was deﬁned in Japan in two different ways; one in a more strict sense and
the other being more inclusive. The wider and narrower deﬁnitions were uniﬁed in 1995 by requiring a survey of the
circumstances of death in addition to the narrower deﬁnition. Because of this situation, the two cases in the 1980s when legal
autopsy was not enforced fell into the category of ‘‘SIDS in a wider sense.’’ In no case was a defendant found guilty when the
cause of death was judged to be either SIDS/ALTE or unknown. Four cases were rejected when the cause of death was judged to
be neither due to suffocation nor SIDS, while seven were accepted either as cases of ‘joint faults that canceled each other,’ or as
‘partial acceptance.’ In Japan, ofﬁcial views concerning a SIDS diagnosis differ among pediatricians, legal scholars of forensic
medicine and pathologists. These differences appeared to inﬂuence the legal decisions. Several conferences should be convened
as soon as possible to provide an opportunity to resolve the main points of difference between these three professional groups
and, thus, attain a uniﬁed view.
# 2002 Elsevier Science Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS); Lawsuit; Judicial precedent; Japan; Civil case; Criminal case
A ﬁscal 1998 report on reducing the death rate for infants
and children, supported by a grant from the Ministry of
Health and Welfare (Integrated Research Project on Home
Forensic Science International 130S (2002) S81–S87
Corresponding author. Tel.: þ81-3-5269-7300;
E-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org (T. Sawaguchi).
0379-0738/02/$ – see front matter # 2002 Elsevier Science Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.
PII: S 0379-0738(02)00145-7