Husband of woman killed by collapsed tree in Botanic Gardens in 2017 sues NParks

Tembusu tree fall: Death of woman ruled a tragic misadventure
Angara's relatives speaking to the media outside of the State Courts on 30 April 2018. (PHOTO: Yahoo News Singapore)

SINGAPORE — The widower of a woman killed by a Tembusu tree that fell on her in 2017 has taken the National Parks Board (NParks) to court nearly two years after a coroner’s court pronounced Radhika Angara’s death a tragic misadventure.

Angara, a 38-year-old Indian national, passed away after a 40-metre tall heritage tree of more than 270 years old fell on her while she was at the Botanic Gardens for an open air concert on 11 February 2017. Angara had been attending the event with her French husband Jerome Rouch-Sirech, and the couple’s then 11-month-old twins. The boy and the girl are now four years old.

The tree cracked, uprooted, and fell where the crowd was seated near the Shaw Foundation Symphony stage, pinning Angara. She was pronounced dead at the National University Hospital from traumatic asphyxia, and other injuries including multiple fractures of the face, rib and hip.

Among his claims, Rouch-Sirech, 42, is suing for damages including $23,117.53 in legal costs arising from the Coroner’s Inquiry, $5,000 in pain and suffering, $5,100 in expenses incurred to obtain the letter of administration and $6,500 in funeral expenses.

Court documents did not state the total figure Rouch-Sirech is seeking.

Solicitors representing Rouch-Sirech and NParks attended a pre-trial conference at the High Court on Tuesday.

In court documents, the widower’s lawyers from Tan Rajah & Cheah allege that the collapse of the tree occurred in a manner that indicated negligence by NParks, or that the collapse of the tree was caused by its negligence.

Rouch-Sirech argues that NParks failed to implement a proper or adequate system to investigate tree failure or to find the Tembusu tree in an unsafe condition and a danger to visitors. NParks failed to carry out the inspections that would show that the tree was in danger of collapse and neglected to remove it, Rouch-Sirech said.

Not only did NParks fail to maintain the tree, it also failed to put in protective measures and ensure that the grass field at Botanic Gardens, a UNESCO site under the purview of NParks, was safe, he argued.

Angara, then a Marketing Director with Mastercard Asia Pacific, earned $252,600 a year before her death and had good prospects of advancement in her career. Her income was likely to increase progressively over the next 25 years, tripling to at least $757,800 annually, claimed her husband.

She had contributed to the mortgage and the living expenses incurred by the children. Her death meant that the children had lost a means of support, said Rouch-Sirech.

In reaching the verdict on 30 April 2018 of Angara’s death as a tragic misadventure, State Coroner Marvin Bay said that the court had considered reports by NParks and by independent arborists, which agreed that the fall of the tree could not be predicted.

Tree was inspected in 2016 and found to be healthy: NParks

In documents filed by NParks, the board rejected the claim of negligence, stating that it had implemented a system to ensure that the tree was inspected and maintained regularly to ensure that it was in a healthy condition.

“The defendant exercised reasonable care and skill in the inspection and maintenance of the Tembusu tree...Prior to the Incident, the Tembusu tree had been regularly inspected and maintained. The inspection and maintenance regime in place for the Tembusu Tree was guided by best management practices promulgated by the internationally recognised body known as the ‘International Society of Arboriculture’,” NParks stated in documents filed by lawyers from LVM Law Chambers.

The tree was last inspected on 29 September 2016 and assessed to be healthy.

“The tree vigor was described as ‘Excellent’ and the foliage colour was described as ‘Normal and the tree trunk showed no signs of decay. The tree had been maintained and pruned regularly, with its last pruning session on 11 August 2016.

“As such, the tree did not show signs that it was susceptible to collapse or required NParks to take additional measures to prevent its collapse. Protective measures were already in place as part of maintenance, including a fence around the tree and mulching of the root zone to prevent compaction of the soil, as well as a lightning protection system.”

A civil trial will take place at a later date.

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Tembusu tree fall: Death of woman ruled a tragic misadventure