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Tragic Berkeley balcony collapse provides lessons in premises liability

A fatal balcony collapse provides lessons in an offshoot of personal injury claims: premises liability.

A birthday party took a tragic turn in Berkeley recently when the balcony of the apartment collapsed. The collapse occurred during the celebration of a birthday and led to the death of six young adults and injured seven more. Five of those who were fatally injured were Irish nationals, visiting the country to complete their studies, the sixth a United States citizen.

More on the balcony collapse

The balcony collapse occurred at the four-story Library Gardens complex near the University of California Berkeley campus. The complex is fairly new, built from 2005 to 2007 by Segue Construction. Although an official cause for the collapse has yet to be released, experts interviewed by SFGate point to faulty construction. More specifically, a mechanical engineer that reviewed photos of the damage noted the wood used to support the balcony appeared to have degraded due to exposure to water, contributing to dry rot. A civil and structural engineer supported these findings, pointing to inadequate waterproofing where the deck met the house as a likely cause.

A recent report by The Guardian notes that this is not the construction company’s first questionable project. The company faced accusations of alleged defects in a condominium development just south of San Francisco about two years ago. Ultimately, the company settled the suit for $3.5 million.

Potential liability

When someone is injured due to safety issues in a dwelling, the legal theory of premises liability generally applies. This theory is a smaller part of personal injury claims, which are used for most accidents, and is generally used in cases of accidents connected to slip and falls, pools and amusement parks.

In cases like this, various parties may be liable. Some examples include:

  • Building owner. Owners that were previously cited for code violations and fail to fix any potential issues may be held responsible for the accident.
  • Construction company. A company that uses improper design or construction for a balcony may also be at fault.
  • Manufacturer. If a product that was used in the building of the balcony is found to be defective, the manufacturer of that product may also be liable.

These are just a few of the parties that may be liable for the wrongful deaths and injuries associated with balcony accidents like the one described above. These cases are often complex. As a result, it is wise for those who lost a loved one or who are suffering injuries from such an accident to contact an experienced balcony accident lawyer to help better ensure their legal rights and any potential remedies are protected.

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