In the trial surrounding a fatal tree fall in a children's playground, three experts assessed the responsibility of the accused city tree inspector differently. In July 2021, a 23-meter-high maple tree fell in the playground in Augsburg and hit a seesaw on which a mother was playing with her 20-month-old daughter.
Both were seriously injured, the girl later died in the Augsburg University Hospital. One of the woman's older daughters was playing a short distance away and was physically unharmed.
The 58-year-old tree inspector responsible for the playground must now answer for negligent homicide and negligent bodily harm before the Augsburg district court. He had last examined the tree, which was clearly growing at an angle, 14 months before the accident. He had not recognized the fungal infection and the associated internal rot of the tree that led to the fall.
Different reviewer perspectives
Three experts were therefore heard by the court. You should assess the inspector's responsibility. An expert accused the 58-year-old of having to initiate a further technical examination of the maple in order to get to the bottom of the tree's safety. The other two reviewers disagreed. The routine check carried out by the tree inspector was sufficient and corresponded to the specifications. “I wouldn’t have examined it in great detail,” said one of the experts about the tree.
The inspector's defense attorney initially explained that his client could not see the problem. The tree's leaning position has remained unchanged for years. The maple tree showed no limitations in vitality, said the lawyer. The fungal infection was not externally visible.
An expert said that the existing signs, such as noticeable root formation during the inspection in May 2020, should have been a reason for a more detailed examination of the tree. The second expert contradicted this: an inspector must carry out a risk assessment. But ultimately there is always a residual risk that a tragic accident could occur. He said cities would otherwise have to spend a lot of time examining thousands of trees. The municipalities have no staff at all for this.
The district court originally wanted to announce the verdict on Monday. Whether this will happen is initially unclear.
Just a week ago there was a fatal tree fall in Würzburg. A 59-year-old cyclist was hit by a beech tree and also died in hospital. An investigation is now underway there too. Trees falling down unexpectedly happen all the time in cities. In most cases, however, storms lead to tree falls.