Homeowners may face claims after falling tree kills woman outside Mid Levels apartment
Flat owners may be sued after heavily pregnant woman is crushed to death in Mid-Levels; baby saved by caesarean but is in critical condition
Olga Wong, Clifford Lo and Michelle Toh
Flat owners and the management company of a Mid-Levels residential block could face legal action after a tree crashed down a private slope and killed a heavily pregnant woman.
The victim's baby was delivered by emergency caesarean section following the accident at Palm Court, Robinson Road, but was in a critical condition.
Zhang Qin, 37, was waiting outside the 11-storey block for a minibus when the 10-metre-tall Indian rubber tree fell on her shortly after 2.30pm yesterday.
It was the third death in a decade caused by a falling tree following those of a 19-year-old university student in Stanley in 2008 and a cyclist in Sha Tin in 2010.
But yesterday's tragedy happened on private land, and some critics said it highlighted the need for a law to ensure trees on private land were well managed. A tree specialist said the trunk was rotten and infected with fungi.
Zhang was taken to Queen Mary Hospital, where she was declared dead an hour later. The baby boy remained in a critical condition on a respirator last night. "The baby's heart was not beating at the time of birth. He received emergency treatment for some time before being transferred to the neonatal intensive care unit," consultant Dr Ng Yiu-ki said.
Zhang, who was 38 weeks pregnant, lived with her husband - understood to be a security brokerage director - and their two-year-old son in Seymour Road.
University of Hong Kong tree specialist Professor Jim Chi-yung said the Indian rubber tree, which grows rapidly, was unsuited to such a confined slope with thin soil. Jim said this week's rain was only a trigger for the collapse. He blamed the wrong choice of tree and poor management.
"The remains of the tree are as crispy as biscuits, showing serious fungi infection," he said.
Jim suspected the tree was infected with brown root rot disease, dubbed "tree cancer". The government has been criticised for failing to act quickly to stop its spread.
The 48-year-old residential building is managed by Hang Yick Property Management Company. A spokesman declined to comment. But a resident living nearby said the tree was trimmed once a year.
Barrister Albert Luk said the management company, arborists or contractor hired to manage the tree could be sued for damages by the victim's family. He warned flat owners in the block could also be liable. "The flat owners could end up bearing the ultimate responsibility if the management company is wound up because of claims," he said.
The Tree Management Office took samples of the tree for testing, a spokeswoman said. She said property owners should hire contractors to step up inspections in the typhoon season.
Police are investigating.
Additional reporting by Fanny W. Y. Fung