Court victory gives new meaning to the phrase “embarrassment of riches.”

On 2 December Judge Yoshio Sawano of Tokyo District Court ordered that the fashion brand Theory pay a 40-year-old man about 40 million yen (US$352,000) in damages inflicted because of the way his winter jacket was designed.

According to the man, the jacket had a rubber cord running through the hood which had little plastic fasteners at the end. One fateful day, a fastener got caught on the sleeve of his coat which caused it to stretch out due to the rubber material. It was then suddenly freed and shot back towards his left eye.

▼ Cord fasteners are also commonly called “cord locks,” “cord toggles,” or “you know…those little plastic things.”

The man claims that the impact of the fastener against his eye resulted in a cataract that required medical treatment. As such he requested compensation of 100 million yen ($881,000) through the court. However, Theory argued that the rubber cord has been a commonly used part of clothing until now and shouldn’t be considered a defect.

Judge Sawano felt differently though, and ruled that “the rubber string is long and stretchy with a fastener at the tip, so it could be said that it poses a danger to the face and eyes. Therefore the product lacks safety and has a structural defect.” He then awarded the man with 40 million yen in restitution from Theory.

Fast Retailing, the parent company of Theory and several other major brands such as Uniqlo, declined to comment until the judgement was carefully reviewed. Readers of the news, however, were all to happy to comment. Many were less than sympathetic to the victim, while some feared that this is a sign of increasing litigiousness in Japan.

“Rubber strings are scary!”
“A 40-year-old man wears clothes with a rubber string?”
“When you think about it, there really is no need for a rubber string in the hood, is there?”
“This seems like the kind of judgment you read about happening in America.”
“It seems like we’re becoming like the USA, and personally I would prefer a rubber string in my hood.”
“Are cataracts that bad that you can get 40 million yen?”
“I didn’t see the actual jacket, but if what they describe is a ‘structural defect’ then there must be thousands of defects everywhere.”

As the last comment alludes to, although the judgment is technically correct in terms of the safety of the cord, it takes us down a slippery slope. It would seem that had Theory used a rigid nylon cord, users of the jacket would be at an equally (if not greater) risk of choking, given the location of the cord.

When the man chose to buy a jacket with a rubber cord he should have done so knowing the inherent risks of stretchy things, much like I did when I bought the pair of scissors next to me right now. Sure, I could accidentally put my arm down and catapult them into my jugular, but I certainly wouldn’t say the scissors were defective…on the contrary they would probably be of pretty high quality if that were to happen.

Anyway, the damages have been awarded and the precedent set. The Theory jacket in question has already been off the market for a while in case anyone out there was thinking they might try to make some extra money too.

Still, it looks as if the country has little time left before everything has an inane warning label on it and many modern conveniences are unnecessarily stripped away in the name of safety. Because the last thing the Japanese legal system needs is even more controversy.

Source: NHK via Hachima Kiko (Japanese)
Top image: RocketNews24
Inset image: Wikipedia/Ratel