Saturday 17 August 2019

Damages in Berkeley case could hit €100m

Workers remove part of a balcony that collapsed at the Library Gardens apartment complex in Berkeley
Workers remove part of a balcony that collapsed at the Library Gardens apartment complex in Berkeley

Ralph Riegel

US officials have predicted that civil claims over the Berkeley balcony tragedy will prove a legal landmark, with potential damages of more than €100m.

The parents of all the Irish and US students killed and injured in the California balcony collapse last June have now lodged civil claims seeking punitive damages.

The 13 plaintiffs have lodged multiple claims, with 35 different defendants named.

The primary defendants are: the builders, Segue Construction; the property managers, Greystar; the apartment complex owners, New York-based Blackrock; and various maintenance firms and sub-contractors.

Five Irish students and one American youngster died when the fourth-storey, timber-supported balcony at 2020 Kittredge Street collapsed at 12.41am on June 16.

Those killed were Dublin students Eoghan Culligan, Niccolai 'Nick' Schuster, Lorcán Miller, Eimear Walsh, Olivia Burke and US student Ashley Donohoe.

Seven other youngsters, all Irish students on J1 work visas, were injured.

Papers lodged by the US lawyers for the families of the students killed and those injured in the tragedy have now confirmed that they are seeking "punitive damages".

California law firms Walkup, Melodia, Kelly & Schoenberger, as well as Rains, Lucia & Stern, are involved in the cases.

Papers have been formally lodged with the Alameda County Superior Court.

The actions are totally separate from, and unrelated to, the ongoing criminal investigation into the tragedy by the Alameda County District Attorney Nanci O'Malley.

Berkeley's mayor, Tom Bates, acknowledged that the potential scale of the claims is massive. A single balcony damages case three years ago in San Francisco resulted in a settlement payment of €11m ($13m).

A City of Berkeley investigation confirmed that the eight timber balcony support beams failed at the Kittredge Street complex due to dry rot.


Several of the claims allege that issues over water and dry rot were first raised five years before the balcony collapse.

One San Francisco lawyer, Niall McCarthy of CPM, said litigation in such cases could take years to resolve.

"Each case varies but one balcony collapse case that I tried had a €13m settlement. But no amount can compensate you in a case like this."

The Contractors State Licensing Board (CSLB), which regulates California's 300,000 building firms and operators, is reviewing what happened after admitting that it was not aware of the scale of lawsuits settled by Segue over recent years.

Irish Independent

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