In short:

A coronial inquest into the death of a South Australian woman who was killed by a falling tree branch has commenced.

The court has heard the death may have been preventable had the tree been better managed.

What’s next?

The inquest continues with the Adelaide Hills Council, SA Water and Power to give evidence over the next week.

A coronial inquest into the death of an Adelaide Hills woman who was killed when a tree branch struck her car in Stirling back in 2020, has heard the 59-year-old’s death “may have been preventable”.

Judith Anne Ditter was travelling with her daughter and two others along Mount Barker Road when a heavy branch from a property fell on the moving vehicle.

Stirling home owner Kerrie Hayes gave evidence in the inquest on Wednesday, telling the court she had sought advice from arborist Tom Fleming to examine the trees on her property shortly after purchasing it in December 2019.

“I wanted advice on a plan to have the trees removed … or whether the trees represented any danger,” Ms Hayes said.

“There was one tree in the yard, a three-limbed Cottonwood tree, which was growing on a very severe angle and I have 11 grandchildren and I was very worried about that tree collapsing on them.

“I did consult two other arborists beforehand but they were too busy to do the job … [Mr Fleming] told me the two Cottonwood trees in the front of the yard which had protruding limbs onto Mount Barker Road were classified as significant trees.”

The branch that fell on Mrs Ditter’s car in 2020.(ABC News)

The court heard the tree was classified as ‘significant’ by the Development Act due to its dimensions — which means permission was required before any tree damaging activities were conducted.

Ms Hayes said Mr Fleming explained to her that if she wanted to remove the two Cottonwood trees she would need council approval and the road would need to be cordoned off.

“Tom recommended that the significant tree should be reduced within a 12 – no longer than 18-month – time frame,” she said.

Ms Hayes said she has had the tree that failed, as well as several others, removed since Ms Ditter’s death.

Counsel assisting the deputy coroner, Martin Kirby, said there were opportunities to make the tree safe since 2012.

“Had appropriate investigations been carried out into the health of this particular tree at these various times, the damage and weaknesses could have been identified and the tree made safe,” Mr Kirby said.

“Mrs Ditter’s death may have been prevented.”

The court heard that an expert arborist inspected the property the day after and found structural defects to the tree.

The Coroners Court of South Australia heard the death was the result of “terrible timing” and there was nothing the victim could have done differently to have prevented it.(ABC News: Lincoln Rothall)

“Documents and records have been provided by the Adelaide Hills Council, SA Water and from SA Power Networks. These records identify a number of potentially tree-damaging activities,” said Mr Kirby

“These activities involved potential excavations in and around the structural root zone of the tree which included construction of the house … construction of a driveway near the tree … there’s also the erection of a new concrete stobie pole by the South Australian Power Networks in 2013.”

Mr Kirby said the woman’s death was a result of “terrible timing”.

“There’s nothing that Mrs Ditter could have done to prevent it,” he said.

The court heard conditions on the night of the tragedy were dry but windy.

Mr Kirby said the high winds along with the structural damage to the tree could have contributed to the death.

While the exact details of the length and weight of the branch are unknown, the court heard that given the images of the damage to the car, the weight must have been “substantial”.

An examination into Mrs Ditter’s death found she suffered fatal injuries, while her daughter suffered a fractured skull, ribs and vertebrae.

The inquest continues with the Adelaide Hills Council, SA Water and Power to give evidence over the next week.