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Deadly Berkeley balcony collapse lawsuit settled

The balcony at 2020 Kittredge St. that collapsed on June 15, 2016, killing six and injuring seven. Photo: Emily Dugdale

The families of the six people killed and seven people injured when a balcony sheared off the Library Gardens apartment complex on June 16, 2015, have settled legal actions with the building’s owner and property manager.

BlackRock, one of the biggest investment firms in the world, and the owner of 2020 Kittredge St., and Greystone, which managed the building, reached an agreement with those affected by the tragedy, most of whom were from Ireland, according to a statement from the law firm handling the cases.

The terms of the agreement were not announced, but the Irish Times reported, “the figure is said to total a substantial multimillion-dollar sum.”

There just remains one legal claim outstanding: with Insul-Flow Inc., a concrete company that operated in California and Nevada, according to Bay City News Service. In May, the families settled with many of the defendants that were sued in connection with the catastrophe. The got as much as $20 million, according to the Irish Times.


The lawsuits filed in November 2015 had alleged that the main contractor, Segue Construction, used inferior composite wood rather than pressure-treated wood to construct the balcony that collapsed. The company, which employed subcontractors, also allowed the balcony to be saturated by rain before enclosing it. All of those missteps meant the balcony had an underlying weakness that caused its collapse when 13 people at a birthday party stood on it at the same time, according to the lawsuits.

At one point, mushrooms began to grow on the outside of the fifth-floor balcony, as well as a balcony on the fourth floor, according to the lawsuits. Despite those red flags, neither Greystone nor BlackRock took steps to examine the balcony’s structure and determine if it was safe, according to the lawsuits. Instead, they allowed apartment #405 to be rented out regularly until the collapse.

The state of California concurred that inferior materials were used in with that assessment in a 145-page report released earlier this year. It revoked Segue’s license in April and the Pleasanton-based company has since shut its doors. The city of Berkeley had reached a similar conclusion after its investigation of the balcony collapse.

While the terms of the most recent settlement are confidential, it apparently includes an agreement by BlackRock and Greystone to “change their procedures so the balconies on their properties are inspected on a regular basis,” according to the Irish Times.

The settlement also allows the families to continue speaking out about what led to the balcony collapse and what should be done to prevent future tragedies like it.


“The Donohoe family was insistent that there could be no ‘Secret Settlement’ designed to prevent the parties from discussing the facts of the case and what they believe to be the cause of this tragedy,” their attorney, Eustace de Saint Phalle of Rains Lucia Stern St. Phalle & Silver, said in a statement.

“The most important factor of this settlement for the Donohoe family is that they will be allowed to continue their efforts in the legislature to avoid a tragedy like this from happening again, said de Saint Phalle.

 

“Nothing will stop us from continuing our fight to have changes made to the California building codes and regulations to require regular inspections by qualified people, proper design and use of proper construction materials, and a ban on ‘Secret Settlements’ that allow contractors to hide defective construction work from the contractors licensing board and the public,” the family of Ashley Donohoe, who was 22 and was from Rohnert Park, said in the statement.

Flowers, candles, and other mementos filled a memorial on Kittredge Street and Harold Way for the victims of the balcony collapse at Library Gardens Apartments. Photo: David Yee ©2015

After the tragedy, Berkeley took steps, through local amendments to state building and housing codes, to reduce the risk of dry rot or other moisture-related damage. Among other things, the measures require ventilation of concealed framing within balconies, stairs, decks and other exterior, elevated building elements; only moisture-resistant materials be used in the building of these structures; and mandatory inspections of all existing balconies, stairs, decks and other exterior, elevated building elements in buildings with more than two units.

In addition to Donahue, the others who died as a result of the balcony collapse were Olivia Burke, Eimear Walsh, Eoghan Culligan, Nick Schuster and Lorcán Miller, all 21 years old and from Ireland.


The seven who were seriously injured were all Irish and include Aoife Beary, Clodagh Cogley, Seán Fahey, Conor Flynn, Jack Halpin, Niall Murray and Hannah Waters.

In January, Greystar, a Houston-based developer and real-estate management company that owns or manages more than 400,000 apartments around the country, including seven apartment complexes in Berkeley, rebranded Library Gardens. The complex was repainted in blue and gray and renamed K Street Apartments.