Berkeley parents file US lawsuits over balcony collapse

Parents of all students killed and injured in collapse take cases against 35 defendants

 

The parents of all students killed and injured in the Berkeley balcony collapse in June have filed legal actions in California.

Parents of the six students killed and the seven students injured in the tragedy are taking cases against 35 named defendants seeking punitive damages.

The cases are being taken against various property and construction-related firms associated with the apartment block where the collapse took place, including its owner BlackRock, builder Segue Construction and manager Greystar.

City of Berkeley inspectors said the balcony fell because the joists supporting the balcony had suffered severe dry rot due to water damage.

A criminal investigation into the collapse is ongoing.

One of the legal complaints, seen by The Irish Times, claims that the defendants “cut corners” and ignored signs of dry rot on the balcony, including “large mushrooms growing on its surface” years beforehand.

Dublin students Eoghan Culligan, Lorcán Miller, Niccolai Schuster, Eimear Walsh, Olivia Burke and Olivia’s Irish-American cousin Ashley Donohoe were killed in the June 16th fourth-floor balcony collapse.

American lawyers representing their parents filed the legal proceedings in a California court on Thursday.

Similar legal complaints were filed for each of the seven students injured in the balcony fall: Aoife Beary, Clodagh Cogley, Sean Fahey, Conor Flynn, Jack Halpin, Niall Murray and Hannah Waters.

Same lawyers

The parents and students are being represented by the same lawyers, San Francisco firm Walkup, Melodia, Kelly & Schoenberger, who filed the legal proceedings in the Superior Court of Alameda County, the Californian county where Berkeley is located.

San Francisco lawyers Rains Lucia Stern, representing the parents of Ms Donohoe, have filed identical legal complaints.

The students were killed when the balcony at apartment 405 in the Library Gardens apartment block on Kittredge Street in downtown Berkeley fell during a party to celebrate Ms Beary’s 21st birthday.

The Irish students, described in the legal complaints as “gifted, optimistic and high-achieving young people”, were working in Berkeley for the summer as part of the J-1 visa programme.

Mushrooms

Previous tenants who lived in apartment number 405, to which the balcony was attached, between 2008 and 2010 complained about the presence of the mushrooms to Greystar, according to the legal complaints.

The growing mushrooms “represented an unambiguous ‘red flag’ warning that the wooden joists were rotting and that the balcony was at great risk of collapse”, the lawyers claim.

The families and the students claim BlackRock and Greystar failed to investigate, inspect or respond to complaints about water intrusion, wood rot, “fruiting bodies” and a tilt on the balcony.

The US lawyers for plaintiffs said their clients hope the litigation will “bring to light the negligence and carelessness that caused this entirely avoidable tragedy that has produced so much pain and loss, both here in and Ireland”.

Attorneys Michael Kelly, Richard Schoenberger and Matthew Davis said their clients hope that as a result of the disclosure of alleged wrongdoing through the cases, “appropriate industry, legislative and other responses will be undertaken to prevent similar tragedies from occurring in the future”.