Shane Phelan: David vs Goliath legal battle on the cards as corporation plans a 'vigorous' defence
The disclosure by corporate asset management giant BlackRock Inc that it intends to vigorously fight lawsuits over the Berkeley balcony collapse means an early resolution of the case is highly unlikely.
The survivors of the tragedy and the families of the dead are seeking damages from 32 different parties, and want to ensure a similar incident cannot happen again.
Public sentiment is undoubtedly on their side, as evidenced by the comments this week of Berkeley Mayor, Tom Bates. He said he believed the survivors and the families of the dead should receive as much compensation as possible.
But BlackRock, which owns the Library Gardens building through a subsidiary, and six linked companies named in the lawsuits, are not going to roll over. Although none of the defendants have formally told the Californian court handling the case how they intend to respond, BlackRock, due to its size, has to make certain disclosures to the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
Annual reports filed to the SEC are required to detail serious legal proceedings a corporation is facing.
The most recent of these filed by BlackRock states: "The plaintiffs allege, among other things, that the BlackRock parties were negligent in their ownership, control and maintenance of the property's balcony, and seek monetary, including punitive, damages.
"BlackRock believes the claims in the lawsuits are without merit and intends to vigorously defend the actions."
The defiant language used in the report has set the scene for a David vs Goliath battle between the survivors and families of the dead and the world's largest investment corporation, which has more than $4.6 trillion in assets under its management.
Lawyers for the families believe other defendants could follow BlackRock's lead in the coming weeks.
Whether this will happen should become clearer later this month, when a case management conference is scheduled to take place.