Italian Earthquake Experts Convicted of Manslaughter
In early April of 2009 an earthquake struck the town of L'Aquila, Italy, killing 309 people. Sometime after that, the survivors of the earthquake accused seven earthquake experts with manslaughter, claiming they failed to properly warn the community in the days leading up to the earthquake. Now each man has been found guilty and sentenced to six years of imprisonment.
The prosecution made their case that seven experts were negligent in their analysis of tremors which came before the earthquake, and that they then made reassurances that directly led to some of the townspeople staying inside when the earthquake occurred, instead of going outside as they had learned to do over the course of their lives. The defense made their arguments around the truths that earthquakes cannot be predicted by any known method, so the experts were being tried because "an event happened."
The meaning and implications of this legal turn of events can be easily exaggerated by those on either side of the issue. On one side, the survivors and others may claim that those who failed their responsibilities to protect the people have been brought to justice. On the other side there are those who see people doing their job and being held responsible for events beyond their control. Also some speculate that by even setting the precedent of convicting scientists like this, it may hinder communication between the seismology field and the public as the scientists do not want to be themselves accused and found guilty of a crime. Of course appeals will be filed once the judge's reasoning is released