Wednesday 21 March 2018

Berkeley lawsuit claims 'red flag' warning ignored

Debris scattered on the pavement after the balcony collapse. Photo: REUTERS
Debris scattered on the pavement after the balcony collapse. Photo: REUTERS
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

The Californian balcony collapse which claimed the lives of six Irish students would not have occurred if contractors hadn't cut corners to save on building costs, lawyers have claimed.

Contractors decided not to replace saturated wood in the balcony of the Berkeley apartment building because it would have been "costly, difficult, embarrassing and inconvenient", a US court has been told as part of a multi-million dollar lawsuit.

It is also claimed the building's management company decided not to have repairs done as it did not want to lose out on rental income.

The allegations are contained in a legal submission made on behalf of Niall Murray, an NUI Galway student who suffered life-altering injuries when he fell from the balcony along with 12 other students last June.

The submission outlines the horrific injuries the Dubliner suffered as a result of the fall.These included spinal fractures, broken bones throughout his body, and injuries to his hands, feet, head and torso, some of which will be "permanent in nature".

The submission also outlined the "unimaginable terror" he experienced as he plunged 40 feet onto a concrete footpath.

Similar submissions have been filed for others who were involved in the tragedy including UCD student Jack Halpin, who was hailed a hero after saving the life of Trinity student Clodagh Cogley by grabbing her and breaking her fall.

Papers filed for Ms Cogley outline the extent of her injuries which include a "paralysing spinal cord injury, two collapsed lungs, fractured ribs, orthopaedic injuries to her extremities, emotional distress and other injuries not currently diagnosed".

As well as blaming contractors involved in the construction, lawyers claim the company which managed the Library Gardens apartment complex did not want to spend money on remedial work or investigations as it was motivated to maximise profits.

Mr Murray was one of seven survivors who were severely injured when the fourth-floor balcony plummeted to the ground.

Lawsuits brought by the families of the dead and by the survivors for unlawful death and personal injury will be heard next year.

The submissions have set out in detail how they believe building firms Segue Construction, R Brothers Waterproofing, and other contractors "created a concealed and hidden trap" by completing work on the balcony when they knew some of the wood used in it was already saturated and in danger of rotting.

Cheaper wood was used in the construction than was listed in the approved design plans, it is also claimed.

This wood lay exposed to 13 inches of rain over a two-month period prior to waterproofing work taking place, the lawyers said. Despite this, a decision was taken not to replace the wet wood and to instead cover it over.

The lawyers also claim the management company for the building, Greystar, ignored a "red flag" when students who rented the apartment complained about the presence of mushrooms growing on the balcony.

Despite the warning, the balcony was not closed off and no tests or remediation work were carried out, it is claimed.

It is claimed this decision was made "because such action would have reduced rental revenue, incurred costs, and been embarrassing and inconvenient".

The management company "purposely and wilfully endangered the health and safety of the tenants and their guests in order to increase their own monetary profits", it is claimed.

Six students, Eimear Walsh, Ashley Donohue, Olivia Burke, Niccolai Schuster, Lorcan Miller and Eoghan Culligan, died with the balcony gave way beneath them.

Their families are suing 35 defendants involved in the construction and management of the apartment building for wrongful death.

Seven other suits for personal injuries have been lodged by Niall Murray, Aoife Beary, Clodagh Cogley, Sean Fahey, Conor Flynn, Jack Halpin and Hannah Waters.

The cases are set to be combined and heard together in the New Year.

Irish Independent

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