Liability for Disaster Predictions – The Italian Earthquake Case

Also see: Faults

Alemanno, Alberto and Lauta, Kristian Cedervall, The L’Aquila Seven: Re-Establishing Justice after a Natural Disaster (July 1, 2014). European Journal of Risk Regulation, 2/2014.

This article discusses the Italian case finding a group of earthquake scientists criminally liable for injuries when they reassured a community that there was no increased risk of an earthquake. This allegedly encouraged them to not take precautions, which increased the injury and death toll when the earthquake struck. The posture of the court was that in the face of small quakes in the area it was unreasonable to say that there was no increased risk of earthquakes. To the extent that this was actually the situation, it is not as upsetting as the reports that the scientists were convicted for failing to predict an earthquake. But it still raises difficult questions about risk communication and whether it demands crepe hanging by scientists, i.e., stating the worst possible outcomes, rather than giving a probability based risk assessment. While there are claims that this would risk claims based on unnecessary evacuations, it is much harder to prove the risk assessment for a risk that does not occur. This article is an excellent introduction to the legal side of the case.

For the implications for the seismology community, see:

Lessons of L’Aquila for Operational Earthquake Forecasting

Technical report of the International Commission on Earthquake Forecasting for Civil Protection  that was appointed after the disaster:

Operational Earthquake Forecasting: State of Knowledge and Guidelines for Implementation,

For more background, see:

http://blogs.nature.com/news/2013/03/italian-seismologists-appeal-laquila-ruling.html

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jan/18/italian-scientists-jailed-laquila-quake

For another view of the case, see:

http://www.wired.com/2012/10/the-verdict-of-the-laquila-earthquake-trial-sends-the-wrong-message/

 

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