The wasp sting that led to involuntary manslaughter

The are no laws on how to remove a wasps' nest from Swiss homes, but people need to take due care 123RF

The Swiss Federal Court has rejected an appeal by a man convicted of involuntary manslaughter and negligent physical injury after wasps from a nest he was removing stung a neighbour who then died.

This content was published on April 20, 2017 - 10:09 and agencies, and agencies/ts

In 2012, the man was visiting friends who lived in a building divided into several apartments. He tried to remove a wasps’ nest from his friends’ balcony, but several wasps flew onto a neighbouring balcony and stung a husband and wife who were having lunch. The woman was stung on her arms and head; her husband, who went into anaphylactic shock, died two days later.

The man appealed against a preliminary instance ruling in Geneva which convicted him of involuntary manslaughter and negligent physical injury plus a suspended fine of CHF9,000 ($9,040). He had argued that there were not any laws on removing a wasps’ nest and that no permission was required.

In addition, he said sufficient causality – necessary for a conviction – had been interrupted by an unforeseeable chain of events: the weather was cold and wet and he couldn’t have predicted that the neighbours would be on the balcony, that the wasps would fly off in a particular direction or that the neighbour would have an allergic reaction.

‘In breach of duty’

None of these arguments convinced the court. While it is true that there are no laws on wasps’ nest removal, everyone knows that wasp stings are potentially fatal, the judges said. Also, one should assume that people can be on their balcony in all weather, if only to get some fresh air or hang up some washing.

In addition, wasps are particularly aggressive around lunchtime, according to an expert report.

The judges were especially critical that the man had begun removing the nest without checking that no one was on any neighbouring balconies. This was “careless and in breach of duty”, they said, adding that the neighbour’s death could most likely have been avoided had the accused acted more prudently.

Safety precautions are necessary when removing a wasps’ nest for a reason, the court concluded.

Three or four people die in Switzerland every year from bee or wasp stings, according to the Swiss Allergy Centre.

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