Berkeley tragedy: Judge rules the 13 lawsuits from families should be combined
A 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 ruled.
Dublin students Eoghan Culligan, Niccolai ‘Nick’ Schuster, Lorcán Miller, Eimear Walsh, Olivia Burke and US 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 40 feet on to the pavement below.
In the first preliminary 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 expedite 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 attorneys to represent the 13 claimants, and five attorneys for the defendants.
The hearing was assigned to one judge, Brad Seligman, who will hear all preliminary motions prior to commencement of the trials.
Judge Hernandez set the next hearing date for January 8, 2016.
Rich Schoeenberger, a plaintiff attorney with San Francisco-based Walkup, Melodia, Kelly and Schoenberger, said the judge’s decision will save time and avoid confusion.
“This will avoid unnecessary hardship on the litigants and it will avoid conflicting decisions in the case,” he added.
The plaintiffs have lodged multiple claims, with 35 different named defendants.
These include Library Gardens LLC, the original developer, Segue Construction, the primary builder and BlackRock Inc., a New York Based investment company that owns the two building complex, and Greystar Real Estate Partners, LLC, which manages the property.
Defendants also include a host of subsidiaries, sub-contractors and materials suppliers.
Preliminary estimates of the damages could reach €100m.
As the case moves forward, attorneys anticipate more case filings as defendants 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.
By 2014, the balcony had begun to slant downwards a sure sign that the joists had been compromised, according to the complaint. A subsequent investigation by the city of Berkeley determined the balcony collapsed due to dry rot in eight balcony support beams.
But despite the indications of structural problems, neither the buiding’s owners, or the property management company, took any action to correct the dry rot problem, according to the complaint.