More than 150 women, including women from all over Japan, filed a lawsuit in the Tokyo District Court seeking compensation of more than 2 million yen for dental clinics, claiming that they were forced to pay a high cost even though they contracted for a monitor because they could perform orthodontics practically free of charge, and that they suffered health damage such as discontinuation of treatment and poor alignment of their teeth.
More than 150 people, including a woman who used to attend dental clinics in Tokyo and Fukuoka, filed a lawsuit at a press conference after filing the complaint with the court on June 6.
According to lawyers, from three years ago to last year, women and others signed a contract with a company in Tokyo because they were invited to perform orthodontics using mouthpieces practically free of charge because they would be paid if they became a monitor at a dental clinic.
However, they are seeking more than 3 million yen in compensation from dental clinics and contracted companies, claiming that they suffered damage such as poor alignment of teeth because most dental clinics were closed and treatment was suspended.
Orthodontics using a mouthpiece has become popular mainly among young women because it can be corrected inconspicuously against the corona disaster, where the mouth was hidden by a mask.
Patients complaining of similar damages against this dental clinic filed a lawsuit with the Tokyo District Court in January, bringing the total number of plaintiffs to more than 1.
The plaintiff, a woman in her 20s, said, "I was worried about what would happen to me because my teeth were shaved off for orthodontics and my teeth are still stained.
Company side: "The dentist is fully responsible" Dentist: "I have nothing to do with it"
THE GRANSHIELD, the company that signed the contract with the patient, responded in writing to NHK in late April through its lawyer, saying, "We will pay responsible contracts with monitor customers and carefully consider how to deal with questionable contracts in the future. We are not in a position to comment." Regarding the appeal, the company said, "The complaint has not yet been served and we are not in a position to comment on it."
Dr. Ito Dentist
On the other hand, Takehide Ito, who is said to have been in charge of orthodontics at the dental clinic "Dental Office X", which is also the defendant, told us in previous interviews, "I opened a dental clinic with the presidents of the company and said, 'If there is a profit, let's share the profit,' but he did not receive any profit from the company and did not participate in its operation. When I heard that I was going to start a monitoring system, I objected to it, saying 'stop,' and after that, I stopped working with dental clinics, so I have nothing to do with it."
Patients from all over the country connected through the "open chat" function of SNS
One of the plaintiffs, Risa Sekiguchi, who works for a company in Tokyo in her 1s, took center stage.
The contract was signed in August during the Corona disaster. When I wanted to improve the alignment of my teeth while my mouth was hidden by a mask, I saw information on SNS that "we are looking for orthodontic monitors" and made an inquiry.
The man who dealt with the treatment told him, "If you cooperate in collecting cases, you will pay the monitor fee, so the treatment fee will be practically free," so he took out a loan and paid the full cost of the treatment.
At first, orthodontic treatment progressed smoothly and monitor remuneration was paid 5,3 yen per month, but in March last year, he received a call from an unknown company saying that the payment of monitor fees would be delayed due to the war in Ukraine, and after that, the payment stopped.
Mr. Sekiguchi, who had a loan of 150.1 million yen left, searched on SNS to find out the truth about what happened, and found many other people tweeting that they were suddenly stopped paying and were in trouble.
He felt that "if I connect with these people, I might be able to do something," so he created a group where people could discuss anonymously using the "open chat" function of SNS and asked them to share information.
The number of participants gradually increased, and when I listened to him, I found that almost all of them were patients at the same or affiliated dental clinics as Mr. Sekiguchi, and they had signed a monitoring contract after receiving similar explanations.
After that, the dental clinic suddenly closed and treatment was suspended, and Mr. Sekiguchi and other chat members complained one after another that their teeth were aligned.
Some people consulted with the Consumer Affairs Center, but they told me that even if I sued the company, the court costs would be higher, so I couldn't find a solution.
As we chatted, Sekiguchi began to wonder if he could file a class action lawsuit.
If multiple people file a lawsuit together, they can share evidence and reduce the cost of a trial. However, even if I tweeted in the chat, some people were suspicious due to the history so far, and sometimes they threw heartfelt words such as "Is the story of the class action lawsuit a scam?" or "Can I trust you?"
Mr. Sekiguchi, who had been communicating anonymously until then, revealed his face and name and repeatedly held online briefings to gain his trust, and invited him to participate in the trial.
As a result, about 300 people have decided to become plaintiffs so far. The cost was also reduced to about 1,5 yen per person.
Ms. Sekiguchi says, "I wanted to be able to smile as much as I could after orthodontics, but I couldn't smile because I was worried about my teeth. There is a limit to what I can do on my own, but I was able to obtain information that exceeded the limit by gathering various people. I'm worried that there are other people who are in trouble alone."
Connecting through SNS to litigation Lawyer "New possibilities for victim relief"
Yukitaka Sasaki, a lawyer who is an expert on consumer damage, points out that "in past consumer troubles, victims were scattered like sand scattered, and there were many cases where they had no choice but to cry and fall asleep because they did not know what to do alone."
Since many consumer troubles do not have connections between victims, it is common for lawyers to seek out victims and invite them to participate in class action lawsuits, and it is rare for victims to connect and file lawsuits like this one.
As a system that allows victims to sue for recovery of damages, a system was established seven years ago in which consumer groups certified by the government, such as the Consumer Organization Japan, of which Mr. Sasaki serves as vice chairman, can file a lawsuit on behalf of the victim and seek relief, but the reality is that it is difficult to use the system unless the party can reliably pay compensation.
Attorney Sasaki says, "While the current system has its limitations, strange victims have connected with each other on SNS and developed into lawsuits, which makes us feel new possibilities for helping victims."
Consultations on "aesthetic medical services" have been increasing in recent years
According to the National Consumer Affairs Center, consultations on "aesthetic medical services" including orthodontics for the purpose of improving the alignment of teeth have been increasing in recent years.
From April to the end of December last year, 4,12 consultations were received, more than 2464% more than the 1853,30 received during the same period last year.
Takeki Wajima, president of the Japan Orthodontic Association, which is made up of dentists and others, said, "I feel that more and more people are doing orthodontics because they want to fix the alignment of their teeth while their mouth is hidden by masks due to the corona disaster. If you receive orthodontic treatment, please get a thorough explanation of the cost of treatment from the dentist in charge."