Section 5: I’ve been injured in a traffic accident – what should I do now?


Section 1 : “Are you talking to the Right Lawyer?”

Section 2 : “Before your first legal consultation”

Section 3 : “Let’s talk about the fees”

Section 4 : “Facts about the Japanese legal system”

If you have been injured in a traffic accident, how do you make sure you receive the appropriate amount of compensation?

Firstly here is what you can expect in terms of the process you will go through to receive financial restitution for your injuries:

  1. Receive medical treatment at clinic/hospital
  2. Medical checks to see if you suffer from any residual impairment/ongoing physical impediment
  3. Application for official recognition of residual impairment/ongoing physical impediment
  4. Official recognition of residual impairment/ongoing physical impediment
  5. Settlement negotiations
  6. Initiate legal preceedings (if settlement negotiations fail to reach agreement)

Point 1: Attend every hospital appointment, aim to make a full recovery

Anyone involved in a traffic accident can make a claim for damages due to pain and inconvenience stemming from their injuries. Having said that, pain and inconvenience differ from person to person. There are criteria for calculating these damages and they are based on the number of times you visit the hospital or clinic to receive treatment, and the duration of these visits over the span of your recovery. Even if those visits are an inconvenience in and of themselves, we urge you to go to every appointment, with the aim of making a full recovery.


Point 2: If you are unable to make a full recovery, apply for official recognition of a residual impairment/ongoing physical impediment

If you were injured in a traffic accident, you will doubtless visit the hospital or clinic, perhaps on several occasions, in order to receive treatment to recover from your injuries. For injuries such as a cervical sprain (otherwise known as whiplash) it is quite common to receive outpatient treatment at a hospital for 6 months.

Hopefully you will make a full recovery at the conclusion of your treatment, but sometimes symptoms do not improve, despite the best efforts of doctors and their therapies. In legalese this is called a “fixed symptom” and this stage is reached when continuing treatments/therapies prove to have no effect and these treatments are thus withdrawn.

At this stage, if functional disorders and pain still remains, these are then referred to as residual impairments/ongoing physical impediments (or sometimes subsequent complications). In order to properly receive financial restitution for these residual impairments, they first need to be officially confirmed.

The presence and extent of residual impairments/ongoing physical impediments can influence the amount of financial restitution by millions of yen. In order to receive the appropriate amount of financial restitution, getting these residual impairments confirmed is vital.


Point 3: Get your attorney to calculate the amount of damages payable (one big plus point about having legal representation)

If you have been injured in a traffic accident and had to endure months of treatment, the attorney that you retain can significantly influence the amount of financial restitution you can receive.

Why is that? Well what tends to happen is that without undergoing court proceedings the amount of damages awarded to people injured in an accident is typically well below the upper payment limit criteria as defined by the other party’s insurer.

In Japan, by law, all motorists have to have auto insurance. Compulsory auto liability insurance cannot cover all the damages that may have to be paid out in the event of an accident, so many drivers in Japan opt for additional insurance on top of their compulsory auto liability insurance policy. In the event that a motorist causes an accident, that motorist’s insurance company will negotiate a settlement with any injured parties. However, the amount of damages that will be offered as settlement by these insurance companies will be well below what would be ordered by a court of law. Simply by informing the insurer that an attorney wishes to hear the case in court, the settlement negotiations often move towards to a figure closer to the court-mandated upper limit for damages.


So when should I consult with an attorney?

・When – faced with the rather impenetrable world of Japanese insurance and the laws that govern that sector – you want someone to act on your behalf with the insurance companies

・When you want to check if the settlement offer made by the insurance company is appropriate or not

・When you want to find out more about what constitutes a residual impairment/ongoing physical impediment and how to get those officially certified

・When you are not satisfied with the treatment/recognition of residual impairments/ongoing physical impediments and wish to lodge an appeal

Furthermore, regarding legal costs, there may be a legal fee rider on the auto insurance that you hold. If we make use of that rider, you can retain an attorney at no cost to yourself. That is something worth checking. Also refer to the previous section on legal insurance.


Makoto Yamamura -Attorney at Law (Japan and New York)-
The University of Adelaide (BComms. 2008), Doshisha Law School (J.D. 2012), New York University School of Law (L.L.M. 2018) . Makoto Yamamura offers legal advice for enterprises of various sizes engaged in international trade (both inbound and outbound). He also represents non-Japanese indivuduals in divorce proceedings, traffic accidents cases as well as other civil disputes.