Berkeley witnesses expected to file lawsuits over incident

US lawyers anticipate litigation by number of Irish student tenants in fourth-floor building

Some of the Irish students who witnessed the Berkeley balcony collapse but who were not injured are expected to file lawsuits over their emotional distress, according to a new court filing in California.

The submission filed in one of the cases taken by relatives for the six students killed and the seven others injured in the June 16th tragedy details how their San Francisco-based attorneys expect the litigation to grow.

Lawyers for one of the survivors said they anticipated additional lawsuits against the owner, builders and manager of the Berkeley building and more than 30 other companies to be filed on behalf of the students who rented unit 405 where the accident occurred.

‘Resulting harms’

The tenants “witnessed the balcony collapse and the resulting harms to their co-tenants and friends but did not suffer physical injuries,” said the filing to

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Alameda County Superior Court

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A number of the uninjured students rushed down to help their friends after the fourth-floor balcony fell during a birthday party. The student's lawyers, San Francisco firm Walkup, Melodia, Kelly and Schoenberger, have asked the court to designate all of the cases already filed as a single "complex" case to fast-track the legal actions.

They expect the cases to throw up “numerous difficult and time-consuming pre-trial motions”, a need to manage a large number of witnesses and a substantial amount of documentary evidence.

The first hearings, before Judge George Hernandez, to consider the complexity of the cases are scheduled to begin in Oakland on Monday.

Punitive damages

The Berkeley families and survivors filed 13 lawsuits in the California court last month seeking compensatory and punitive damages over claims of wrongful death and injury, marking the first claims for damages since the accident happened.

Walkup, Melodia, Kelly and Schoenberger said in last week’s court filing that “complex insurance coverage claims and dispute” will probably arise in the cases.

The defendant companies, including contractors, architects and suppliers, are likely to have contractual and “additional insured” relationships and will assert cross-claims for indemnity, they said.

“Questions such as whether a policy is implicated, which insurance policy is primary and which carrier has the duty to defend are likely to arise,” said the law firm.

The attorneys also told the court that further destructive testing of the collapsed balcony, which is still the subject of a criminal investigation, was conducted last month and earlier this month.

About 40 lawyers and consulting experts retained by the plaintiffs and many of the 35 named defendants attended the first destructive testing of the apartment 405 balcony and the removed third-floor balcony underneath on October 5th and 6th.

More testing was performed by consultants for Blackrock, the owners of the building, during the week of November 23rd with other consultants present and again on December 3rd and 4th.

City of Berkeley officials blamed dry rot caused by water intrusion into the balcony for the collapse of its wooden supporting joists.

The District Attorney for Alameda County, who prosecutes crime in Berkeley, is conducting the criminal investigation to determine whether a crime was committed in the building and maintenance of the balcony.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is The Irish Times’s Public Affairs Editor and former Washington correspondent