Partial settlement reached in Berkeley balcony legal actions

Substantial payments to be paid to seven survivors and relatives of six deceased

The families of five Irish students and one Irish-American who died in the Berkeley balcony collapse in California in June 2015, and the seven survivors of the incident, have reached a partial settlement in their US legal actions.

Substantial payments are to be made to the families and the survivors by the companies responsible for the construction of the Library Gardens apartment block in Berkeley.

Defendants that were involved in the design and building of the balcony agreed to pay the compensation during the discovery phase of the civil litigation before the California courts.

The legal actions against the property's owner, US asset management company Blackrock, and manager, Greystar, taken by the families of the deceased and the survivors, are proceeding in the California Superior Court for the County of Alameda, which covers the city of Berkeley.


Birthday party

Irish students Olivia Burke, Eoghan Culligan, Lorcán Miller, Nick Schuster and Eimear Walsh, all 21 years old, and Ms Burke's cousin Ashley Donohoe (22), from California, died when the fourth-floor balcony they were standing on collapsed during a 21st birthday party in the early hours of June 16th, 2015.

Another seven Irish students - Aoife Beary, Clodagh Cogley, Seán Fahey, Conor Flynn, Jack Halpin, Niall Murray and Hannah Waters - suffered catastrophic injuries.

Lawyers for Ms Donohoe’s family said in a statement that the partial settlement was made with some of the defendants responsible for the construction work done during the building of the apartment complex.

The law firm said the amounts to be paid would “never restore health or lives of the students but the payments reflect an effort to maximally compensate the victims within the means of the wrongdoers.”

The amount being paid in the settlement is not being disclosed

"The Donohoe family will continue to push for legislative changes to the building codes and related to establishing a reporting requirement to the contractors licensing board for contractors who settle claims related to poor construction work," said the Donohoe family's lawyer, Eustace de Saint Phalle.

“The Donohoe family does not want negligent contractors to be able to hide the settlements of claims related to faulty construction through the use of secret settlements.

"It is necessary that this information be provided to the contractors licensing board so that they can properly regulate the construction industry," said Mr de Saint Phalle, of San Francisco firm Rains Lucia Stern St Phalle and Silver.

Trial date

A date for the trial against the remaining defendants has been set for early 2018.

The Donohoe family’s law firm has said “the bereaved families and survivors look forward to presenting the evidence supporting their claims to a fair and impartial jury”.

Last month the US construction firm that built the apartment block, California-based Segue Construction, had its building licence revoked by the industry regulator, the California State Contractors Licensing Board.

Dry rot caused by water damage to the supporting joists under the balcony was blamed for the collapse.

The licensing board found that if the balcony had been built as designed, the load of the 13 students was “well within the design limits of the balcony structure” and would not have collapsed.

Segue, the board alleged, “willfully departed from accepted trade standards for good and workmanlike construction in the building of the Berkeley apartment complex”.

‘Poor waterproofing’

Forensic examination of the balcony uncovered “extensive dry rot/decay around the balcony’s joists, due to poor waterproofing and substandard materials used in the balconies construction.

The state regulator argued that “it was the decay of the joists that caused the balcony to collapse on June 16, 2015”.

The amount being paid in the settlement is not being disclosed. The lawyers for the families of the deceased and the survivors have said the figures are confidential.

“This settlement will never restore health or life but reflects an element of justice from the wrongdoers for the deaths and serious injuries caused by the tragedy,” said attorney Matthew Davis, who represents the families of the six deceased students and six of the survivors.

Mr Davis, of the San Francisco firm Walkup, Melodia, Kelly & Schoenberger, said he would not be making any further comment.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is News Editor of The Irish Times