Erin Brockovich pledges to help Berkeley families

Activist says there is a need to ensure firm involved in tragedy is ‘held to account’

US activist Erin Brockovich has offered to meet the families of the students who were killed or injured in Berkeley, California, last week to ensure the company involved is “held to account”.

The intervention has come days after building inspectors found parts of the balcony that collapsed, killing six Irish students and injuring seven more, were “severely dry rotted”.

Last week, it emerged that Segue Construction, the California firm which built the Library Gardens apartment complex, paid $3 million (€2.6 million) last year to settle a case over alleged defects in another apartment scheme.

Ms Brockovich, the legal clerk and environmental activist who was instrumental in building a case against the Pacific Gas and Electric Company of California in 1993 for poisoning the town of Hinkley’s water for more than 30 years, said she was urging “immediate action” for the Berkeley families.


In a Facebook post on Wednesday, she said the survivors of the collapse ought not to be left with “enormous medical bills”, while the families of those who were killed “need to uncover the truth”.

‘Immediate action’

“I urge immediate action on the costs for Berkeley families,” she said.

“The company behind the construction of the Berkeley apartment block should take action to ensure that the families of those involved in the balcony collapse disaster are not left with enormous medical bills as a result of the faulty construction.

“It is [the company’s] duty, I believe, to ensure that the treatment of those who were affected is paid for, and that they are not burdened with the costs of this disaster as well as the trauma associated with it. I will be calling upon those involved to do the right thing in an effort to avoid the need for prolonged and expensive litigation.

“Some of those injured would require extensive care before being able to return home and it [is] essential that families [do] not face what I consider as the additional nightmare of mounting medical bills.

“I am available to meet with and assist the families, and to advocate for them to find a non-litigious solution in the coming weeks.”

Five Dublin students – Eoghan Culligan, Lorcán Miller, Niccolai Schuster, Eimear Walsh and Olivia Burke, as well as Ms Burke’s Irish-American cousin Ashley Donohoe from Rohnert Park, California – were killed when the balcony they were standing on collapsed during a birthday party on June 16th.

“For those who did not survive the accident, there is a need for us to uncover the truth about what happened,” said Ms Brockovich.

“For those who did survive, there is a pressing need to ensure that the company responsible for this tragedy is held to account.”

‘Search for answers’

She said she had partnered with Dublin law firm Phelim O’Neill Solicitors to facilitate families who require “any support or assistance”, and offered to meet with the families at their discretion “as they begin their search for answers, explanations, and justice”.

Ms Brockovich said she believed it was “her duty” to come forward and offer assistance to the families.

“As a Californian, I am devastated that these young visitors to our shores were caught up in this horrific situation. My heart goes out to their families, friends, and loved ones, and, along with all of the people of California, I want to extend my deepest sympathies to the people of Ireland.

“The waking nightmare that these families have been living for the past week is hard to imagine, and no words from me or anybody else can ease their pain. However, as a lifelong activist, I feel it is my duty to come forward and offer these families my assistance.”

Actor Julia Roberts won an Oscar in 2001 for her portrayal of Ms Brockovich in an eponymous film.

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson is an Irish Times reporter