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DID THE OWNER KNOW ABOUT DANGEROUS WATER DAMAGE BEFORE THE BERKELEY BALCONY COLLAPSE TRAGEDY?

As predicted in our blog previously, it is reported that Berkeley Police Department homicide investigators were at the scene of the deadly balcony collapse. http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Five-dead-8-hurt-in-Berkeley-balcony-collapse-6329902.php

The media is reporting that five of the six students who died in tragedy were from Ireland:

  • Olivia Burke, 21, Ireland
  • Eoghan Culligan, 21, Ireland
  • Niccolai Schuster, 21, Ireland
  • Lorcan Miller, 21, Ireland
  • Eimear Walsh, 21, Ireland
  • Ashley Donohoe, 22, Rohnert Park

Walkup attorneys including partners Michael Kelly, Richard Schoenberger and Doris Cheng have traveled to Ireland on numerous occasions to teach trial advocacy skills to Irish lawyers, and the entire firm mourns with the victims' families and friends. This is a national tragedy for the Irish people.

There are numerous reports that wood rot caused by water damage was a likely cause of the collapse. Indeed, the broken ends of wooden beams seen in post-collapse photos of the wreckage appear discolored and pulpy - classic signs of water-induced dry rot.

Architects, designers and contractors know that water infiltration leads to rot, rust, erosion and other forms of material degradation that can lead to the catastrophic failure of a structure. Most recently, for example, there have been questions whether a massive earthquake protection bolt on the new Bay Bridge failed because of corrosion caused by unintended exposure to Bay water.

Damage caused by water infiltration is frequently spotted soon after a building is erected. The responsible property owner will remedy the damage and stop the cause before a tragedy occurs. But fixing water damage can be incredibly expensive. A significant amount of construction defect litigation centers around multi-million dollar repairs of damage caused by water seeping into a new building through windows, doors, decks and roofs. These lawsuits are often brought by the property owner or a homeowner's association against builders, contractors, suppliers and architects.

Today, there is a report the company that built the complex where the balcony collapse occurred "paid $3 million last year to settle a lawsuit claiming problems similar to those suspected as a cause of the Berkeley collapse - shoddy construction on apartment balconies that led to rot." http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Berkeley-mayor-says-water-damage-probably-to-6333561.php

If verified, that would be evidence that the builder and the past and current owners and managers of the complex all had notice of the dangerous condition of the balcony and failed to fix it despite the tremendous risk tenants and their guests. They instead collected high rents from foreign students. The injured victims would be justified in filing a lawsuit that seeks not only compensatory damages, but also a large additional award of "punitive" damages. The purpose of punitive damages is to punish and make an example out of the wrongdoer who has behaved "despicably." The amount of the award must "hurt" the defendant financially for the purpose of the award to be achieved.

It is reported that a multi-billion dollar investment fund owns the complex and that a huge company, with hundreds of thousands of units in its portfolio, serves as the property manager. Their corporate wealth would be considered by a jury that was asked to award punitive damages against them. Under California law, wealth is an important consideration in determining the excessiveness of a punitive damage award. Because the purposes of punitive damages are to punish the wrongdoer and to make an example of him, the wealthier the wrongdoer, the larger the award of punitive damages. Obviously, the function of deterrence will not be served if the wealth of the defendant allows him to absorb the award with little or no discomfort.

Anyone looking for more information about these topics should contact Michael Kelly of our firm at mkelly@walkuplawoffice.com or 415-981-7210. 

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