Friday 30 September 2016

Bruising legal case lies ahead

Published 13/06/2016 | 02:30

Workers check the remains of the balcony after the tragedy. Photo: AP
Workers check the remains of the balcony after the tragedy. Photo: AP

This week in Berkeley, a church ceremony will celebrate the memory of the six young people whose lives were so cruelly taken from them when the fourth-floor balcony they were standing on gave way on that fateful night last June.

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Such ceremonies are part of the lengthy grieving process that the families of the dead and survivors of the tragedy have had to endure.

It has been an unimaginable ordeal for all involved. But one year on, there is little sign of any form of closure.

Despite evidence that various parties failed to act after being alerted that the balcony was potentially unsafe, no one has been held to account.

A nine-month criminal investigation concluded in March when a district attorney decided that there was insufficient evidence to bring manslaughter charges against any one individual or company. A regulatory investigation has identified five contracting firms who may have cases to answer, but California's attorney general has yet to decide whether to prosecute them and seek to remove their licences.

So the families and survivors have pressed ahead with a multi-million-dollar lawsuit, seeking punitive damages in a bid to ensure that a similar tragedy cannot happen again.

This process has been far from smooth.

Firstly, due to the large number of partied involved in the ownership, management and construction of the building, legal proceedings have been quite unwieldy.

Secondly, none of the 32 defendants has rolled over and admitted liability.

Now, the latest setback for the families and survivors has come in the form of allegations by at least four defendants that the victims may have contributed to the tragedy.

The latest claims come just weeks after some of the defendants tried, and failed, to limit the damages they can be sued for. Further pre-trial submissions are expected from several defendants.

If events so far are anything to go by, the trial looks set to be a bruising and lengthy affair.

Irish Independent

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