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Suits Filed in Deadly Balcony Collapse

Monday, November 16, 2015

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Managers of an apartment building in Berkeley, CA, knew mushrooms were growing in a rotten apartment deck weeks before it collapsed and killed six students, according to lawsuits filed Thursday (Nov. 12).

The lawsuits allege the building manager, building owner and a construction company chose to ignore the complaints instead of fixing the problem before the June 16 tragedy, according to multiple news reports.

The San Jose Mercury News reported that plaintiffs said nearly two dozen defendants “knew that the structural damaged caused by wood-destroying fungi goes beyond what the human eye can see.

“The tenants reported and complained about the presence of the mushrooms on the balcony,” the lawsuit said.

San Francisco law firm Walkup, Melodia, Kelly and Schoenberger represents the families of five of the students who died and all seven of those who were injured. In total, the daily newspaper reported that 12 separate lawsuits were filed by the firm.

All of those injured or killed, except one, either were Irish citizens or Irish-American citizens. According to The Irish Times, a 13th “identical” lawsuit was filed by the law firm Rains Lucia Stern. That firm, the Ireland newspaper said, represents the family of Ashley Donohoe, who was the only American who died in the collapse.

None of the court documents were available Friday (Nov. 13) for review. Attorneys for the majority law firm told the Irish Times they hoped that the lawsuits will “bring to light the negligence and carelessness that caused this entirely avoidable tragedy that has produced so much pain and loss, both here in and Ireland.”

Birthday Party Tragedy

The fifth floor balcony of the 176-unit Library Gardens apartment building snapped and fell shortly after midnight June 16, according to previous reports. Thirteen students who were celebrating at a birthday party plunged to the street below. Six of them died and seven were left with “life-altering injuries.”

Five of the six who died were from Ireland; the sixth had Irish-American citizenship, previous reports indicate. They were Donohoe, 22; Olivia Burke, 21; Eoghan Culligan, 21; Niccolai (Nick) Schuster, 21; Lorcan Miller, 21; and Eimear Walsh, 21.

All of the people injured or killed were students at the University College Dublin or the Dublin Institute of Technology. Many had been working in the San Francisco Bay area on internships, reports said.

History of Water Intrusion

Shortly after the incident, city building inspectors said the deck had severe dry rot, including on the joist ends where it tore away from the building. The outer beams of the balcony sustained “significant rot and decay,” but inner joists appeared in better shape, a 10-page report indicated.

The Library Gardens Building is just eight years old. Segue Construction, of Pleasanton, CA, completed the building in 2007. Multiple reports have indicated that the contractor has been entangled in a number of lawsuits involving balconies and/or water intrusion.

A few weeks after the collapse, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo denied Segue the opportunity to inspect beams removed from the building, according to previous reports. Gillo said July 2 that doing so was tantamount to “participating in” the criminal investigation that had begun by that time.

District Attorney Nancy O’Malley launched the investigation after the city’s report came out in June. She has since said that manslaughter charges are possible, but none have been filed yet.

Early Reports

According to the newspaper in San Jose, plaintiffs allege in the lawsuits that Segue and waterproofing firm Etter & Sons Construction “purposefully disregarded” plans to protect the balcony from water incursion, “early deterioration and rot.”

In addition to Segue and Etter, the lawsuits seek unspecified damages from Black Rock Realty, the New York firm that owns the Berkeley apartment building; its property manager, San Francisco-based Greystar Properties; companies that did the waterproofing on the balcony; architects; engineers; subcontractors; and building materials suppliers.

The Irish Times said that previous tenants who lived in apartment 405—where the collapse occurred—had reported to Greystar that mushrooms were growing as early as 2008.

Growing mushrooms “represented an unambiguous ‘red flag’ warning that the wooden joists were rotting and that the balcony was at great risk of collapse,” lawyers said, according to the Ireland newspaper.

Lawsuits also allege that the balcony had a slant that had not been correct, according to media reports.

   

Tagged categories: Architects; Building codes; Building design; Building envelope; Building materials; Building owners; Construction; Contractors; Deck coatings; Government; Laws and litigation; Lawsuits; Multifamily; water damage; water leakage; Water repellents; Waterproofing

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