STRASBOURG, France (CN) – The European Court of Human Rights fined Romania on Tuesday for not properly investigating the country’s involvement in a deadly car accident caused by an uprooted tree.
Two siblings brought the suit to the ECHR after the Romanian judicial system repeatedly refused to bring charges against the government for negligence.
“The authorities did not take the necessary steps either at the start of the investigation or during the investigation,” the seven-judge panel ruled in a decision only available in French.
Marius and Marinela Ștefan complained to the Strasbourg-based court after their parents and younger brother died when an uprooted tree fell on their car while driving near Murfatlar, a town in the southeastern part of Romania. Both siblings were in the car during the August 2007 accident and were seriously injured.
The police opened an investigation into the incident and the director of a nearby forestry center concluded that the tree had fallen because its root system had been damaged by the digging of a ditch near the tree and a leaky sanitation system, which altered the quality of the soil.
The local prosecutor, however, terminated the investigation in 2013, arguing that there wasn’t enough evidence that the government had been negligent in maintaining the stretch of road. The family appealed this decision but was initially overruled. The case was reopened later that year, but with the same conclusion.
“The investigation was not finalized until eight and a half years after the tragic accident in the present case, even though the case was not particularly complex. It considers that the duration in question is unreasonable,” the ECHR said.
The Romanian government argued that the accident was an act of God and thus no one could be held liable, but the court rejected the claim.
“The judicial authorities did not seek to establish precisely the role played by the different public authorities,” it said.
The ECHR was established by the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects the civil and political rights of those living in its 47 member states. It is considered a court of last resort, so applicants must first exhaust their options in their national courts before filing a complaint.
The court awarded 20,000 euros ($22,000) to Marinela Ștefan and 5,000 euros ($5,400) to Marius Ștefan. The discrepancy is a result of Marinela Ștefan having been dependent on her parents’ income at the time of the accident while Marius was not. They were also awarded legal fees.
Despite strict measures to combat the spread of Covid-19, the court is still issuing decisions for cases it heard before the restrictions were put in place.