Berkeley Balcony Lawsuits Say Long Series of Errors Led to Deadly Collapse

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Workers inspect a balcony that collapsed at an apartment building near UC Berkeley on June 16, 2015, in Berkeley. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Lawsuits filed on behalf of a dozen Irish victims of last June's fatal apartment balcony collapse in Berkeley allege that property managers had been alerted to signs of structural rot nearly seven years before the tragedy.

Six people were killed and seven seriously injured early the morning of June 16 when a fifth-floor balcony at the Library Gardens apartment complex collapsed. The 13 victims, mostly Irish students visiting Berkeley on a summer-abroad program, fell about 40 feet to the street below.

An investigation afterward found that the wooden beams designed to support the balcony failed because of advanced dry rot.

The 12 lawsuits -- one, for victim Niall Murray, is embedded below -- allege that the series of events that led to the collapse began when the balcony for Apartment 405 was under construction.

The complaints allege that contractors, including Pleasanton-based Segue Construction and its subcontractors, left the balcony structure open after it was built in late 2005, a period during which it was exposed to prolonged precipitation -- 13 inches of rainfall on 21 separate days. As a result, the suits say, the framing and oriented strand board decking on the balcony floor were saturated with water before contractors began the process of waterproofing the structure.

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"These defendants knew that waterproofing and sealing the already waterlogged [oriented strand board] and underlying wooden joists was dangerous," the complaints allege. They add that going through with the waterproofing at that point "would promote and accelerated dangerous wood rot, and would cause the rapid deterioration of the structural support of the balcony."

The suits say "an unambiguous 'red flag' warning" of that deterioration began to appear soon after Apartment 405 was first occupied.

From October 2008 through the summer of 2010, the documents say, "tenants observed large mushrooms growing from multiple locations on the surface of the apartment's balcony" and complained to the building management, Greystar. The suits say neither the managers nor the building owners, real estate conglomerate Blackrock Inc., did anything to correct the structural problems.

The complaints also claim that a year before the June 16 collapse, the Apartment 405 balcony "demonstrated an increased tilt away from the building" when people stood on it. That condition was reported to or seen by the building's owners and managers, who again failed to take corrective action, the suits say.

We're seeking comment from the major defendants in the case.

The suits were filed on behalf of the estates of Olivia Burke, Eoghan Culligan, Niccolai Schuster, Lorcan Miller and Eimear Walsh -- all 21 and all from Ireland.

Other plaintiffs include Irish students Niall Murray, Aoife Beary, Clodagh Cogley, Sean Fahey, Conor Flynn, Jack Halpin and Hannah Waters.