In 2010 a post-earthquake tsunami struck the Chilean coast, killing at least 156 people. It was a tragedy, as so many natural disasters are. But, for prosecutors in Chile there is now a question that needs to be answered: Did the response of Chile’s National Emergency Office and it’s interior ministry to earthquake constitute professional negligence ?
For many, the answer is yes. Hundreds in at-risk areas received absolutely no warning of the impending wave.
As such, the charges are about more than mere professional negligence – the court will also look to consider the question of whether the actions of eight defendants constituted criminally negligent homicide.
Fragmentation and infighting has broken out between the defendants, many of whom blame each other for being responsible for the failures.
What is clear is that, even if the allegations of criminal negligence do fall down, some level of professional negligence did take place – only seven of the 80 parties who should have received warning did so.
The case is a complex one for the lawyers involved. Yet, however understandable the need for accountability, there are concerns that this same need could lead to rash prosecutions.
If the court case fails to give satisfaction, say most Chilean commentators, it is likely that civil professional negligence proceedings will follow.