(Sept. 29, 2011) On September 20, 2011, the trial of six Italian scientists and a former government official on charges of manslaughter for the 2009 earthquake in L'Aquila began. The 6.3 magnitude quake killed 309 people on April 6 two years ago and devastated the city and several other villages in the region of Abruzzo. (Italy Scientists on Trial over L'Aquila Earthquake, BBC NEWS (Sept. 20, 2011).)
The defendants, who include some of Italy's most distinguished geophysicists and members of the country's civil protection agency, were members of a government panel, the Serious Risks Commission, which was in charge of assessing the risks to L'Aquila from earthquakes after hundreds of low-level tremors had rattled the city in the months before the earthquake struck. Prosecutors allege the defendants gave a falsely reassuring statement before the quake occurred. In particular, they accuse the seven of “negligence and imprudence… of having provided an approximate, generic and ineffective assessment of seismic activity risks as well as incomplete, imprecise and contradictory information.” (Id.) The defense argued that earthquakes cannot be predicted even in a seismically active area. (Id.)
The defendants face up to 15 years in prison on conviction. Lawyers for civil plaintiffs, who include the local council, are also seeking damages of €50 million (about US$68 million). (Id.; Susan Watts, Scientists in the Dock over L'Aquila Earthquake, BBC (Sept. 16, 2011); see also Constance A. Johnson, Italy: Prosecutors Investigate Quake Damage with a View to Charges, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (Apr. 16, 2009), http://www.loc.gov/lawweb/servlet/lloc_news?disp3_l205401229_text.)
Prepared by Laura Andriulli, intern at the Law Library of Congress, under the guidance of Nicole Atwill, Senior Foreign Law Specialist. Ms. Andriulli graduated with honors from the University of Florence and the Sorbonne University (Paris 1), where she earned a Double Degree in Italian and French Law. She recently earned her LL.M. degree from Penn State University's Dickinson School of Law.