Berkeley lawyers offer two different theories for collapse
Published 20/04/2016 | 02:30
Lawyers acting for survivors and families of those who died in the Berkeley balcony collapse have admitted making apparently contradictory claims in relation to the cause of the tragedy.
The admission came after an architecture firm applied to a court seeking to have a lawsuit against it thrown out.
TCA Architects is one of 32 defendants named in multi-million-dollar civil damages suits over the collapse last June, which claimed the lives of five Irish J1 students and a young Irish-American woman, and seriously injured seven others.
The lawsuits allege that defects with the balcony should have been obvious to the companies owning and managing the Library Gardens building.
But they also claim that the architecture firm was negligent in its design and engineering of the balcony, a suit which suggests the balcony defects were not clear to the average person.
Lawyers for the survivors and families of victims defended this apparent contradiction, saying they were "entitled to allege alternative theories against multiple defendants" under Californian law.
San Francisco law firm Walkup, Melodia, Kelly & Schoenberger said its clients could allege that the owners and managers were aware of the dangerous condition of the balcony and also allege, in the case against TCA, that the balcony's defects were not clear and obvious.
It accepted that it may not be able to obtain damages under both theories.
TCA is one of several defendants which have sought to poke holes in the lawsuits brought on behalf of the survivors and families of the victims. Several have sought to have lawsuits watered down so that the cost of any potential award is diminished.
The lawsuits have been taken against the owners of the building, trillion-dollar investment firm BlackRock; its management firm Greystar; a number of associated companies; and several building contractors.
An administrative hearing in relation to the lawsuits was scheduled to take place yesterday, but has been postponed for a number of weeks.
In legal filings, TCA Architects claimed the suit it is facing failed to state facts sufficient to constitute a cause of action.
The company pointed the finger at those involved in the construction of the balcony, saying the victims and families were correct to allege the wrong materials were used. It said the approved plans required the use of plywood for the balcony decks, but were disregarded by construction contractors.
Instead of using plywood, as specified in the plans and specifications, the construction contractors purposefully disregarded the plans and specifications and used oriented strand board (OSB), it claimed.
The OSB was "more susceptible to water damage, water infiltration and early deterioration and rot than the plywood specified in design plans", lawyers for TCA said.
The construction firms involved do not deny using OSB, but claim it is interchangeable with plywood under Californian building codes.