Product liability claims are generally brought in the district courts in the first instance. Product liability claims are based on tort and the provisions of the Product Liability Law. There is strict liability against manufacturers for personal injury and property damage arising from defective products. Case law has established that manufacturers cannot exclude liability for personal injuries that result from defective products.
The amount of damages recoverable is decided on a case-by-case basis. While there is no specific statutory formula for determining damages, in practice reference is often made to the "red book," which quantifies damages recoverable for specific categories of injuries suffered in automobile accidents. Japanese law does not allow punitive damages.
Product liability claims must generally be brought within three years. If an injury is latent and discovered after the fact, the limitation period will begin when the injury is discovered.
Lawyers fees are generally not awarded, except in extraordinary cases.
Class actions are not permitted under Japanese law, but cases may be consolidated if there are several plaintiffs with similar claims.
Until recently, there was no legal obligation to undertake product recalls in Japan. However, some serious injuries caused by defective products have prompted recent changes in Japanese law. The Consumer Product Safety Law was amended with effect from May 14, 2007 and requires recalls, reports to the Ministry and other steps if a defective product creates the risk of a "product accident" or "serious product accident."
Japanese consumers are very brand sensitive and the actions by a company's management when dealing with problems that arise can have a significant impact on the perceived trustworthiness of the company and its products. Recently there have been several high-profile cases in which "defective" products were sold to the public in Japan, leading to significant problems for the manufacturers, even though product recalls were not mandated by law.