A California judge has ruled that the civil action suits from the families of the six Irish college students killed in the tragic balcony collapse in Berkeley this past summer, as well as those of the seven students critically injured, will be heard together.
“The request is to combine or consolidate all of the cases into one trial department. It makes sense for one judge to hear all of them,” Judge George C. Hernandez ruled yesterday in a hearing that lasted five minutes.
“We agree to do that, to keep all of the cases in one place.”
Irish students Olivia Burke, 21; Eoghan Culligan, 21; Lorcan Miller, 21; Niccolai Schuster, 21; Eimear Walsh, 21; and Irish-American student Ashley Donohue, aged 22 and a cousin of Olivia Burke, died in the accident on June 16.
Seven other Irish students in the US for a summer on the J-1 work visa, Hannah Waters, Aoife Beary, Clodagh Cogley, Niall Murray, Sean Fahey, Jack Halpin and Conor Flynn, all aged between 20 and 22, were also severely injured during the accident. They fell 40 feet when the balcony, on the fourth floor of the building, collapsed, allegedly due to neglected dry rot caused by water damage, despite previous inspections clearing the building.
The young students had gathered at the apartment to celebrate Beary’s 21st birthday.
The families of the victims, none of whom were present for this initial hearing, will be represented by three attorneys. Five lawyers are representing 35 the defendants, who thus far have been named as building’s original developer, Library Gardens LLC; Segue Construction, the main builder; BlackRock Inc, the New York-based investment company that owns the Library Gardens complex; and property manager Greystar Real Estate Partners.
The damages awarded could reach $110 million (€100 million), according to preliminary estimates.
The Irish Independent reported that a number of sub-contractors, subsidiaries and material suppliers are also included among the defendants, and that it is anticipated that the defendants will take legal action against each other as the legal case continues.
The complaint filed states that “fungal blooms and other biological growth” indicating the presence of dry rot, were evident on the balcony when construction of the Library Gardens complex concluded in 2005, and that officials at the apartment complex knew about the dangers, but failed to fix them.
The lawsuits, filed in November, further allege that the builders cut corners to save money and that the subcontractor did not use proper materials called for in the building’s plans, instead using cheaper product that was more susceptible to water damage and dry rot.
According to the lawsuit the builder framed the balcony in October 2005. However, they did not waterproof it right away. The wood lay bare and exposed for two months, while 13 inches of rain fell.
That January, the lawsuit states “These defendants consciously chose to waterproof and complete construction of the balcony for apartment 405, without correcting the water saturated wood components."
The waterproofing locked in the moisture, creating "a concealed and hidden trap."
Following yesterday’s hearing, the case was adjourned until January 8. Judge Brad Seligman will hear all preliminary motions before the trials, the Irish Independent reported.