On the anniversary of the Berkeley balcony collapse tragedy, we look back at the families’ lawsuit and settlement as they fought for justice.
On June 16, 2015, the people of Ireland and the Irish-American community were struck by tragedy as six young students lost their lives in a balcony collapse in Berkeley, CA.
Olivia Burke, 21; Eoghan Culligan, 21; Lorcan Miller, 21; Niccolai Schuster, 21; Eimear Walsh, 21; and Irish-American Ashley Donohue, aged 22, were celebrating the birthday of fellow J-1 student Aoife Beary when the balcony they were standing on collapsed, flinging them from the fourth-floor apartment to the ground below.
Beary was also injured in the incident, along with a further six students: Hannah Waters, Clodagh Cogley, Niall Murray, Sean Fahey, Jack Halpin and Conor Flynn, some of whom suffered injuries that may completely alter the course of their lives.
Three years on from the deaths that shook Ireland, families and friends are only just finding some kind of justice for the loss of their loved ones.
In March 2016, the California District Attorney ruled there would be no criminal charges of manslaughter brought against any one individual or company involved, citing a lack of evidence.
Although the balcony collapsed due to water trapped on the deck during construction, which in turn led to extensive rot, the materials used were all in line with building code regulations and as such, the Alameda County District Attorney, Nancy O’Malley, felt a “disregard for human life" could not be proven nor could it be shown that "the deadly consequences of those actions were reasonably foreseeable.”
The 13 families involved sued the respective owners, builders and managers of the Library Gardens block, however, as did the three other young women who rented the apartment where the balcony collapsed. Clionadh Maloney, Caroline Conlon and Aisling Tallon, who had just stepped off the balcony when the tragedy occurred, sued for the emotional damage caused at witnessing their friends fall.
In November 2017, the families reached a settlement with some of the companies involved in the construction while the three witnesses also settled their legal action on June 4, 2018.
"Nothing will ever replace our daughter, our niece or the other four students who died that night,” said the Donohue family who lost both their daughter Ashley Donohue and niece Olivia Burke in the collapse.
This Saturday marks the third anniversary of the Berkeley Balcony Collapse. New building regulations are to be introduced in California next week exactly three years on to ensure a similar tragedy never happens again. @BarryLenihan reports next #DrivetimeRTE pic.twitter.com/4lfJYDWfRh— Drivetime RTE (@drivetimerte) June 14, 2018
"After this tragedy, I would hope all that were involved will join us in our efforts to ensure there are proper changes to the building codes and regulations in California related to annual inspections, balcony design, construction materials and the prevention of 'Secret Settlements' that allow negligent contractors to hide their bad conduct."
The details of the settlement with the Blackrock and Greystar companies who own and manage the Library Gardens complex were not disclosed.