Families of the five Irish students killed when an apartment balcony, in Berkeley, California, have filed 13 lawsuits over the incident.
Six students in total were killed from the fall and another seven were seriously injured. The incident took place during a 21st birthday party, being held at the J-1 student’s apartment on June 16. Dublin students Eoghan Culligan, Lorcán Miller, Niccolai Schuster, Eimear Walsh, Olivia Burke (all 21-years-old) and Olivia’s Irish-American cousin Ashley Donohoe (22) were killed in the fourth-floor balcony collapse.
Legal analyst for ABC 7 news, Gill Soffer, said that while the lawsuit does not contain a dollar amount for damages the families could receive “millions upon millions of dollars certainly.”
If the plaintiffs can demonstrate there were red flags you're talking about millions upon millions of dollars because they're young people (who) appear to have serious and lifelong injuries. This is the sort of case that generates a very big damages figure
The lawsuits are filed against 39 defendants, including: Segue Construction, which built the Library Gardens apartment complex and its sub-contractors; Blackrock Investment, the current owner of the property; and Greystar, the property management firm. The allegations include that the balcony was poorly constructed, sustained dry rot to the point of growing mushrooms and that officials at the apartment complex knew about the dangers, but failed to fix them.
Investigators reported, shortly after the collapse, that dry rot, due to water damage, had caused the balcony to collapse. The student fell 50 feet, from the fourth floor, to the street. According to ABC news the examiners said the wood was flaking away in their hands.
The families of the Irish students are all being represented by the same lawyers, San Francisco firm Walkup, Melodia, Kelly & Schoenberger, who filed the legal proceedings in the Superior Court of Alameda County, on Thursday afternoon. San Francisco lawyers Rains Lucia Stern are representing the parents of Ashley Donohoe. They have filed identical legal complaints.
Walkup, Melodia, Kelly & Schoenberger stated “Our clients have authorized the filing of these claims with the hope that this litigation will bring to light the carelessness and negligence that caused this entirely avoidable tragedy that has produced so much pain and loss, both here and in Ireland.”
The Irish families of the five students who died declined to comment on the lawsuits. However, the parents of Ashley Donohue, from the Bay Area, who died alongside her cousin Olivia Burke released a statement on Thursday.
They said they want “to make sure that those who were responsible for this tragedy will be held accountable. While the civil litigation is proceeding, our office will do everything it can to assist the DA in its criminal investigation.”
None of the companies in question were available to comment but one engineering firm said they expected to be dismissed from the case as their work played no role in the collapse.
The lawsuits allege that the builders cut corners to save money and the subcontractor did not use plywood called for in the plans. This cheaper product used 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."
From October 2008 to the summer of 2010 "tenants observed large mushrooms growing from multiple locations on the surface of the apartment's balcony, an unambiguous red flag warning that the wooden joists were rotting and that the balcony was at great risk for collapse."
The Alameda County district attorney, Nancy O’Malley, has been conducting an investigation to decide if criminal charges are warranted. “Destructive testing” on the balcony and relevant materials have been sent to an independent laboratory for forensic testing.
This October, President of Ireland Michael D Higgins met Berkeley’s mayor and public safety workers last month to thank them for helping after the balcony collapsed. Meeting with Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, public safety workers, health-care providers and area residents during his 8-day trip to the US West Coast, President Higgins shoveled dirt around a pair of strawberry tree saplings planted in a Berkeley City park near the site of the accident, a tribute to the six young victims and the seven other Irish students seriously injured during the balcony collapse.