SINGAPORE: The husband of a woman who was killed by a falling tree in the Singapore Botanic Gardens three years ago is suing the National Parks Board for damages.
In documents seen by CNA, widower Jerome Rouch-Sirech claims that NParks’ negligence led to the collapse of the Tembusu tree on Feb 11, 2017, pinning his 38-year-old wife down.
The couple was attending a public concert at the gardens with their then-11-month-old twins when the incident occurred.
Ms Radhika Angara, an Indian national, was pinned down by the tree and died later in hospital, with a subsequent coroner’s inquiry ruling that her death was a tragic misadventure.
READ: Tembusu tree accident: Death of woman a ‘tragic misadventure’, says coroner
In his statement of claim, Mr Rouch-Sirech alleges that NParks failed to have or implement a proper or adequate system to investigate tree failure, and that it failed to discover that the Tembusu tree was in an unsafe condition.
It also did not have a proper and adequate system for assessing or inspecting the 270-year-old tree in a way that would disclose that it was not in a healthy condition.
The document also alleged that NParks failed to have in place a satisfactory system of inspection for old and large trees including the one that fell.
Mr Rouch-Sirech’s lawyers, from law firm Tan Rajah & Cheah, also wrote that NParks either knew about the dangerous condition of the tree or should have known about it, and failed to correct it.
The board had exposed Mr Rouch-Sirech’s late wife and her family to unnecessary risk of danger, damage or injury, alleged the lawyers.
They argued that it was because of this negligence that Ms Angara sustained severe injuries leading to her death, including fractured ribs, multiple fractures of the face, rib and hip, and bleeding.
While no total figure of damages sought was explicitly stated in court documents, the papers stated that Ms Angara was employed as a marketing director with Mastercard Asia/Pacific at the time, with an annual income of S$252,600 per year excluding bonuses.
This income was likely to increase progressively over the next 25 years, with the lawyers estimating that it would have tripled to at least S$757,800 per year over this period.
Her husband and children were dependent on her for support, said court documents, and her death meant the loss of this support on top of Mr Rouch-Sirech’s bereavement.
Mr Rouch-Sirech is also claiming S$5,000 in damages for pain and suffering, about S$23,000 in legal costs for the coroner’s inquiry, S$6,500 for funeral expenses and S$5,100 for administrative matters.
In its defence documents seen by CNA, NParks rejected the allegation that its negligence, or that of its servants and agents, caused the collapse of the tree.
It said it had “implemented a system to ensure that the Tembusu tree was inspected and maintained regularly to ensure that it was in a healthy condition”.
The tree was regularly inspected and maintained before the incident, with a regime in place that was “guided by best management practices promulgated by the internationally recognised body known as the International Society of Arboriculture”.
The last inspection of the tree, on Sep 29, 2016, assessed it to be healthy, with the tree vigour described as “excellent” and foliage colour as “normal”.
There were no external signs of decay on the tree trunk, wrote NParks’ lawyers from LVM Law Chambers.
In response to queries from CNA, NParks said: “As the proceedings are ongoing, it would not be appropriate to comment on the matter”.
Both sides attended a pre-trial conference in High Court on Tuesday and the civil trial is expected to follow at a later date.