Three Dublin law firms have begun assisting the Irish families of victims and survivors of the Berkeley balcony collapse with finding American lawyers to represent them in the wake of the tragedy.
A&L Goodbody, Arthur Cox and McCann Fitzgerald have been advising some family members on hiring US law firms to pursue legal claims over the fatal fourth-floor balcony collapse that killed six students and injured seven more, some seriously, on June 16th.
The firms are helping the families on a pro-bono basis and assessing law firms in the San Francisco Bay Area with a track record in personal injury and wrongful death litigation.
The families must hire American attorneys as any claims must be processed by US lawyers. Each family may seek their own attorneys or a number may decide to be represented by one firm. Each case has specific and individual requirements, ruling out the possibility of a one-firm class action lawsuit.
The legal process to be followed will be different for the families of the bereaved who wish to seek justice for their sons and daughters under wrongful death claims and for the injured students who must lodge legal claims for financial support to cover their long-term care.
Five Dublin students – Eimear Walsh, Eoghan Culligan, Lorcán Miller, Nick Schuster and Olivia Burke – and Ms Burke's Irish-American cousin Ashley Donohoe (22) from Rohnert Park near San Francisco died when the balcony collapsed at a birthday party.
Berkeley building safe inspectors blamed the collapse on dry rot in the balcony’s support beams caused by water damage. The Alameda County District Attorney is carrying out a criminal and civil investigation into the incident and the source of the water intrusion.
A number of the injured students suffered life-changing injuries that will require long-term financial support as well as changes to their homes in Ireland to adapt to their changed circumstances.
The accident generated much interest among California law firms given the potential for costly, high-stakes litigation. The Irish families are said to have been keen to seek the help of Irish solicitors they are familiar with to deal with the initial attention from US lawyers, carrying out due diligence on the California firms.
A&L Goodbody is the only one of the three firms with an office in San Francisco. It is run by one of the firm's partners John Whelan who normally works on corporate issues for US multinational and Irish companies in the Bay Area and nearby Silicon Valley.
Mr Whelan is helping out as a past pupil of St Mary’s College in Rathmines, the secondary school attended by two of the students who died in Berkeley, Nick Schuster and Eoghan Culligan, and a number of the young men who were injured in the accident. He is close to many of the families through their connections with the school.
Greg Glynn, head of Arthur Cox's litigation department, travelled to San Francisco last week to help the families. McCann FitzGerald has a family connection with one of the seven injured Dublin students. The parents of Ashley Donohoe (22), one of the victims, hired San Francisco law firm Rains Lucia Stern in the days after the tragedy to voice concerns about the initial investigation into the accident and later to lobby for changes to new building and inspections rules on balconies recommended made by City of Berkeley's building safety inspectors.
Five weeks on from the tragedy, tributes continue to be paid to the victims and the survivors.
A minute’s silence was held before Manchester United’s pre-season friendly game against San Jose Earthquakes at 4am Wednesday, Irish time in California.