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At this playground in Augsburg, a tree fell on a toddler in July 2021

Photo: Stefan Puchner / dpa

After the death of a toddler by a falling tree, the responsible inspector has been acquitted of the charge of negligent homicide. The Augsburg District Court ruled that the employee of the city of Augsburg could not have foreseen the tree fall caused by a fungal infestation.

In July 2021, the 23-meter-high maple tree had fallen on a playground 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. An older daughter of the woman played a little away and remained physically unharmed.

"It was a terrible, tragic accident, but you are not to blame for it," the judge said to the accused gardener when the verdict was announced. The man had examined the clearly obliquely growing tree last 14 months before the accident. He had not recognized the fungus and the associated internal rot of the tree that led to the fall.

Inspector in psychotherapeutic treatment

The inspector was badly affected by the accident, said his defender. Since then, the 58-year-old has been unable to work and is undergoing psychotherapeutic treatment.

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Fallen tree in Augsburg playground in July 2021

Photo: Augsburg Fire Brigade / dpa

In the trial, three tree experts had testified and had come to different assessments. An expert accused the defendant that he should have initiated a further technical examination of the maple in order to get to the bottom of the safety of the tree – even if he had not been able to recognize the so-called smut crust fungus himself. There had been signs such as a conspicuous root formation.

The other two reviewers disagreed. The routine inspection carried out by the tree inspector was sufficient and in accordance with the specifications. "I wouldn't have examined it in great detail either," said one of the experts about the tree. The maple had made a vital impression at the last check.

Residual risk in tree inspections remains

One expert explained that an inspector always makes a risk assessment. But in the end, there remains a residual risk that an accident will occur. He said that otherwise cities would have to examine thousands of trees at great expense. The municipalities would have no staff at all for this. Otherwise, large parts of the tree populations would have to be felled, the expert said.

Ultimately, both the defense attorney and the prosecutor demanded an acquittal for the 58-year-old. The verdict became final immediately.