Patiya May coronial inquest findings released

Patiya May Schreiber, 4, was killed when a branch fell from a tree in Rosalind Park in December 2013.
Patiya May Schreiber, 4, was killed when a branch fell from a tree in Rosalind Park in December 2013.

UPDATE: The lawyer acting on behalf of Patiya May Schreiber’s mother Kristy Thomson has welcomed the coroner’s findings that more could have been done to prevent the four-year-old’s tragic death.

Slater and Gordon public liability national practice group leader Barrie Woollacott said an above ground inspection of the tree could have prevented the incident.

“The coroner agreed with the evidence of three experts that an earlier inspection should have raised the need for further investigation,” Mr Woollacott said.

“He said a thorough, above-ground inspection would more than likely have demonstrated the tree was decayed and dictated the need for remedial work, either pruning or removing the tree.”

The family is considering its legal options in light of the coroner’s findings.

Mr Woollacott said the last 21 months have taken an “enormous toll” on the family.

“The death of Patiya has taken an enormous toll on her family and their lives have not been the same since,” he said.

“Patiya’s mother Kristy Thomson suffered life-changing injuries and continues to be traumatised by the events that caused her daughter’s death.

“The family asks that their privacy be respected.”

EARLIER: A coronial inquest has found the lack of a tree management plan was not a major factor in the death of Patiya May Schreiber, 4, in Rosalind Park.

Patiya May was killed and her mother Kristy Thomson was seriously injured when a branch fell from a tree on December 30, 2013.

The inquest findings were released on Thursday and concluded the lack of a management plan was not a “causal factor”, but the tree did warrant more than a ground inspection.

In his report, coroner Phillip Byrne said hindsight had made it difficult to determine whether the inspectors had been adequately thorough in their duties.

“It is with a degree of unease, because I wonder whether I have been able to reach conclusions excluding the benefit of hindsight,” he said.

“I have come to the view, based on the weight of evidence, that there were sufficient features of this tree in September 2013 that warranted more than a ground inspection.”

The branch that fell from a tree in Rosalind Park on December 30, 2013.

The branch that fell from a tree in Rosalind Park on December 30, 2013.

The tree was inspected on September 19, 2013, in which inspector arborist Daniel McWilliam spent “three to four minutes” walking around the base of the tree looking for risk factors.

Mr McWilliam viewed the tree as “structurally sound” and not did believe it required further work or inspection, despite noting the tree’s structure was “not ideal”.

The gum tree had been damaged up to 60 years before the limb fell, causing it to have a number of epicormic shoots – growths protruding from the main trunk that do not constitute full structural limbs.

Mr McWilliam told the court he did not believe the tree required further inspection as “there were not sufficient structural faults to warrant further inspection at the time”.

The tree was to be inspected in a further 12 months time, as part of an annual assessment.

All three experts who provided evidence to the court agreed an above ground inspection would have demonstrated decay.

One expert commented his arborist business uses drones to carry out above ground inspections, rather than the “old way” of using ropes and harnesses, which costs $200 per tree.

Because of the costs involved in above ground inspections, trees need to prioritised carefully and very few receive the closer look.

In his report, Mr Byrne said the tree in question warranted further investigation.

“A thorough, above ground inspection, more like than not, would have demonstrated decay and included bark,” he said.

“Simply put there were a number of features of the tree, singularly and in combination, which, on the face, upon inspection should have raised suspicion as to its soundness and warranted further investigation.”

Wind gusts were not deemed to be a major factor on the day, despite reaching 70 kilometres per hour.

The coroner’s report made eight recommendations, including that all councils have a “computer-based inventory” of all trees that are their responsibility.

Other recommendations included formalised tree inspection protocols and a higher level of qualification for arborists completing the inspections.

While acknowledging the use of drones could be a cost effective way of analysing tree health, Mr Byrne said they were “not a panacea for all situations as navigating through dense and multiple close canopies may not be possible”.