In June, a balcony snapped off the fifth floor of an apartment building in Berkeley, CA, causing the deaths of six college students. Five of the students were from Ireland and were working in the San Francisco Bay Area for the summer. When the balcony broke off of the building, 13 party guests were thrown down five stories to the ground. Seven remain hospitalized after the accident.
The city’s Building and Safety Division recently issued a summary of initial findings from their investigation. The inspection found that the joists that extended from the building to support the concrete and wood balcony were extremely rotted at the place where the structure broke off. The rot appears to have been caused by water damage, though the inspectors have not definitively ruled that the rotten beams are what caused the collapse. The inspectors did, however, call for mandatory inspections, as well as emergency changes in the building code to prevent balconies, decks, and stairs from being exposed to moisture.
Tom Bates, Berkeley’s mayor has announced that the cause of the accident has not been officially determined, but he did speculate that rotten beams might have caused the collapse. The inspectors also found signs of decay in the fourth floor balcony just below the balcony that collapsed. The other two balconies in the apartment complex showed no signs of decay.
The lead contractor recently sought a restraining order to prevent investigators from the district attorney’s office from examining the evidence without a company representative present. Attorneys for the contractor believe that it would suffer irreparable injury if it were excluded from examining the evidence. It is likely that complex litigation will result from the tragedy and the district attorney has announced that involuntary manslaughter charges could result from the balcony collapse.
A spokesperson for the contractor said that the company has built over 6,000 apartments in the area over the past 20 years and has never had an incident in which a member of the public was injured as a result of construction defects after the project was completed. Records show that the balcony passed an inspection in 2014.
This accident is an extreme example of what can happen when buildings are not properly designed, built, maintained, or inspected. Although it is too early to say exactly what caused the accident, it is likely that someone failed in their duties to design, build, maintain, or inspect the property. When a property owner fails in its duties to keep the property safe for visitors, the property owner can be held liable for damages. The company that built the property, the city inspectors, or the company in charge of maintenance may also face liability.
In a case like this one, determining liability can be tricky because of the number of parties involved, as well as because of the difficulty of determining the cause of the accident and when the damage occurred. Litigation may be in state or federal court, depending on the circumstances, and may involve multiple litigants.
If you have been harmed in an accident involving a dangerous property condition, you need to speak with an attorney as quickly as possible. The more time that passes between when the accident occurs and when you speak with an attorney, the more difficult your case becomes.
At Liberty Law, Micha Star Liberty believes that anyone who is harmed by a dangerous property condition should pursue compensation from the responsible parties. Call Micha Star Liberty, San Francisco premises liability attorney, at 415-896-1000 or 510-645-1000. She can help you pursue damages for your case, including lost wages, pain and suffering, medical expenses and more. Call today to learn more.