Berkeley balcony tragedy cases to be heard together
Civil action taken by the families of 13 Irish students killed and injured in the Berkeley balcony tragedy will be heard together to save court time, a judge has ruled.
Dublin students Eoghan Culligan, Niccolai 'Nick' Schuster, Lorcán Miller, Eimear Walsh, Olivia Burke and US-based student Ashley Donohoe died in the accident on June 16.
Seven other youngsters, all Irish students on J1 work visas, were injured when they plunged 40ft to the pavement.
In the first hearing in the sweeping lawsuit over the balcony collapse in Berkeley, a judge at Oakland, California, agreed to combine all 13 lawsuits in order to speed up court proceedings and save time for the court and litigants.
"The request is to combine or consolidate all of the cases into one trial department. It makes sense for one judge to hear all of them," said Judge George C Hernandez. "We agree to do that, to keep all of the cases in one place."
None of the families taking action were present for the hearing, which lasted five minutes. There were three solicitorsto represent the 13 claimants, and five solicitors for the defendants.
The hearing was assigned to one judge, Brad Seligman, who will hear all preliminary motions before the trials.
Judge Hernandez adjourned the case to January 8.
San Francisco lawyer Rich Schoeenberger, representing the families, said the judge's decision would save time and avoid confusion.
"This will avoid unnecessary hardship on the litigants and avoid conflicting decisions in the case," he added.
The plaintiffs have lodged multiple claims against 35 defendants.
These include Library Gardens, the original developer; Segue Construction, the main builder; BlackRock Inc, a New York-based investment company that owns the Liberty Garden complex; and Greystar Real Estate Partners, which manages the property.
The defendants also include a host of subsidiaries, sub-contractors and materials suppliers.
Preliminary estimates of the damages are that they could reach €100m.
As the case moves forward, lawyers expect defendants will begin to sue one another.
According to the complaint, fungal blooms and other biological growth, which indicated the presence of dry rot, were evident on the balcony almost as soon as construction was completed in 2005.