“Japan and America: Cultural Differences Shown Through the Toyota Recalls”

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“Japan and America: Cultural Differences Shown Through the Toyota Recalls” Product Liability and Tort Law is clearly unique all over the world. One wouldn’t think this to be too odd because of the various cultural and structural differences associated with each country. This difference can be seen in the differences in product liability and tort law with regards to the United States and Japan. This is not to say that the actual laws differ, but more the way the law is used and the ways the cultures deal resolving disputes with the law. This is because Japan’s government and legal structure is much like the United States due to the consequences of United States Occupation after World War II. While this true the cultures and perceptions of these laws significantly vary. A prime example of the theory is the current Toyota recall saga. This saga is playing out currently and highlights the many differences that are evident in both cultures. The recall is happening in both countries, but the company is handling each differently do to the cultural differences involved in each country. It is through this event that the cultural differences with regards to tort and product liability law can be seen despite the fact the countries actual laws vary only slightly but are mostly the same.

Toyota’s problems with their products quality has been something as a surprise to most Americans, because of their long standing tradition of producing quality cars. The popularity of the car brand even surpassed the automobile companies of the United States such as Ford, and General Motors. With the light of these new problems Americans have began to doubt the quality of the automobiles that Toyota is selling, and this can be seen with the emergence of discontent in the public and the rise in lawsuits and extensive recalls. As described on MSNBC the public view of Toyota has changed extensively, with values of cars dropping and overall demand falling to unprecedented lows. “As Toyota continues to deal with the recalls and wavering public confidence in its vehicle safety, its biggest financial fight may be in the courtroom.” Also another fall out in the United States for Toyota is the reduction of residual values of existing Toyota automobiles, which is causing many Americans to join existing class action lawsuits to regain some of this loss. On top of this Toyota also must worry about the numerous wrongful death lawsuits they are facing in the United States. Thomas Baker of the University of Pennsylvania Law School outlines how bad it may get for Toyota on MSNBC "A super-big injury case would be $20 million. But you could have millions of individual car owners who could (each) be owed $1,000. If I were Toyota, I'd be more worried about those cases."1 While there have been over 50 class action suits in the United States filed for several reason the exact opposite is true for Japan.

In Japan there have been zero lawsuits with regards to the Toyota recall problems. There are many underlying factors that contribute to this fact but it’s extremely odd considering the number of lawsuits filed to date in American courts. While minor differences occur in American and Japanese law, it isn’t so much different that there should be such a difference in lawsuits filed. One thing that contributed to this was the different regulations regarding recalls due to safety concerns in each country. In the United States there are a lot stricter rules on recalls and safety, which may have lead to the large difference in numbers of vehicles recalled in each country. Also in the United States punitive damages are often awarded to winners of liability and tort lawsuits, but in Japan lawsuits normally only receive compensatory damages and rarely award punitive damages. This is shown in the Wall Street Journal “Japanese courts rarely award punitive damages beyond compensatory damages, discouraging consumers and lawyers from suing companies hoping for fat payouts.” This...
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